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Turkey extends mandate to use troops in Iraq, Syria by one year

Turkey launched unprecedented operation inside Syria to back pro-Ankara rebels fighting IS militants, Kurdish militia
Turkish air strike on Jarabulus, Syria on 24 August (REUTERS/file photo)

Turkey's parliament on Saturday overwhelmingly approved a one-year extension of an existing mandate to use Turkish troops abroad in Syria and Iraq.

The mandate was first approved by parliament in October 2014 and was renewed for another year in September 2015. It was the first and only item on the agenda on the first day of the new legislative year, the Associated Press said.

It allows military action in Turkey's two southern neighbours against Islamic State (IS) militants and other groups deemed by Ankara to be terror organisations.

Using the existing mandate, Turkey on 24 August launched an unprecedented operation inside Syria dubbed Euphrates Shield to back pro-Ankara rebels fighting IS militants and a Kurdish militia.

Ankara is also believed to have an unspecified number of troops in the Bashiqa camp outside IS-controlled Mosul in northern Iraq involved in training Iraqi fighters who plan to recapture the city.

The bill passed easily on the first day of the new session of parliament with support from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Only the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) voted against it.

According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, the new mandate will run until 30 October 2017.

In his speech marking the opening of parliament, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the initial goal of the Syria operation was to create a "safe area free of terror organisations" about 5,000 square kilometers in size.

Erdogan hailed the results of the operation so far in the Syrian town of Jarabulus, saying its population had expanded from 2,000 to 40,000 since being captured from IS.

As well as targeting the militants, the operation is also aimed against Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara regards as a terror group.

Erdogan said he believed that Mosul could be taken from IS, but warned Baghdad and Turkey's Western allies that Ankara had to be involved in any operation and included in the decision-making process. 

"Turkey cannot be left off the table. The others don't have such a border [with Iraq]. They may want us to stay as spectators, but that decision is also going to be made here."

In December, Turkey said it had sent up to 300 troops to Bashiqa camp to protect Turkish military personnel involved in training Iraqi fighters.

But this sparked a diplomatic row with Baghdad and an unspecified number were pulled back amid US pressure to end the row. The current number of troops is unclear.

Turkey is also upset that in Syria the US is allied with the Kurdish YPG militia.

Erdogan said there was an "inconsistency" in the US policy with "part of the US administration working with the YPG and part working on policies more sensitive to our interests".

In a sign of the tensions inside Turkey, the MPs of the pro-Kurdish HDP refused to stand up when Erdogan entered and their co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag were not in the chamber.

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