Tag Archives: Turkey

Turkey joining the fight against ISIS

WASHINGTON – For the first time since the Islamic State – also known as ISIS – began to spread across Iraq and Syria, neighboring Turkey has launched air strikes against positions of the jihadist organization in Syria.

Air Forces commanded from Ankara responded to the attacks launched by ISIS last month in the Turkish location of Suruç and the bordering city of Kilis. With this new development, the conflict takes on a new profile, perhaps one that many were expecting from a NATO ally, to slow down and undermine the progress and consolidation capabilities of the Islamic State.

For Ayça Alemdaroglu, Associate Director at the Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program, this decision is related to Turkey’s domestic policy situation. “The governing party is making a clear effort to maintain its power in times of decreasing electoral support. A way to balance this is to look for support in the international community – especially the U.S. – and so, their current fight with the Kurds is not seen.”

If the Islamist militias were aiming at a military escalation, they are indeed succeeding. So far Turkey, which borders to the south with Syria and Iraq, had maintained a poorly defined defensive posture towards the advancement of ISIS. This, even though ISIS’ assault to Kobanî in October last year came dangerously close to the Turkish border.

Turkey, let’s not forget, has also been a haven for sympathizers of jihadism. Many of them are in the Kurdish southern provinces that have chosen to provide support to ISIS given the lack of prospects offered by the Turkish government for their cause.

Alemdaroglu, who has worked as a post-doctoral scholar at the Anthropology Department at Stanford and earned her doctorate in sociology at Cambridge, highlights the fact that several reports indicate that the Turkish government has been indirectly supporting ISIS. “Central intelligence agencies from Turkey have been transporting trucks across the boarder loaded with ammunitions, including anti-aircraft rockets that end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda,” she says.

Turkey is also the gateway to the territories controlled by ISIS for youths coming from all over Europe and the rest of the world to join the Islamist militia. And if that isn’t enough, there are more than a million and a half Syrian refugees living on Turkish soil.

Ankara had wanted to maintain its own agenda on the issue and on more than one occasion refused to provide facilities to the U.S. military. However, in this new stage, the Turkish government has yielded to Washington’s request to use the Incirlik Air Base and although the details of the agreement are unknown, it appears that the U.S. activity in the area will require greater Turkish cooperation.

The U.S. has made their conditions very known to Turkey in order for this cooperation to succeed. Among them is to fully respect the Kurds, who have become key allies to America in the area, and which they have armed to the teeth to avoid having a single boot on the ground.

So far Turkish Presidente Erdoğan has found it difficult to agree, mainly because he doesn’t like the Kurds to be armed by the U.S. and gaining international recognition for their work to eradicate extreme jihadism in the area.

This agreement and the new attitude of the Turkish government will mark a profound change in the management of the crisis by both Washington and Ankara. Before this, it was unacceptable that Turkey, a country that belongs to NATO, had turned a blind eye to the jihadist activity in its own territory.

Furthermore, it was strategically ineffective for the U.S. to combat ISIS militarily from bases and aircraft carriers located more than a thousand miles away.

This turning point, however, will not come without risks and the crisis could spill over to neighboring countries and even deepen the less known violence happening in Turkey right now.

“If you think about national security in a much broader sense, the security of human beings for example, what Turkey is doing right now is not strengthening national security at all. I just came back from Turkey on August 10 and there were two attacks in Istanbul. I think around 10 people died. This could be unrelated to the main ISIS issue but it shows that Turks are not safe at this moment,” says Alemdaroglu.

U.S. reluctant to declare safe zone along Turkey-Syria border

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey exchange pleasantries before testifying in front of the Senate Committee on Armed Services about U.S. counter ISIS strategy. (Matt Yurus / Medill NSJI)

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey exchange pleasantries before testifying in front of the Senate Committee on Armed Services about U.S. counter ISIS strategy. (Matt Yurus / Medill NSJI)

WASHINGTON – Turkey and the U.S. agreed to a deal in late July that might lead to an ISIS-free zone along the Syrian-Turkish border while allowing the U.S. to launch airstrikes against the marauding jihadist organization from Incirlik Air Base in Southern Turkey.

There is not a plan in place, however, to create this buffer or safe zone, as it is often called. And Obama administration officials are reluctant to call what they expect to be a roughly 60-mile long and 40-mile deep area that nearly reaches Aleppo a safe zone.

The administration refers to this as an “ISIL free zone so that it would not have the perception of a safe zone protected as a no-fly zone,” said Ömer Taşpınar, a professor at the National War College and expert on Turkey. To implement a no-fly zone, the U.N. must pass a resolution, and Russia and China would veto it, and Iran would view it as a hostile act, according to Taşpınar.

Taşpınar pointed out that the agreement did not detail the type of zone that would be created. The Turkish media, however, has been reporting that the U.S. has finally agreed to a safe zone. So in this sense, it has been a public relations strategy, he added.

There are a lot of loose ends and potential complications, he said. The Turkish forces are hesitant to deploy ground troops without the protection of a U.S. and coalition-enforced no-fly zone. The Obama administration has refrained from sending in a sizable U.S. led ground force, instead choosing to train indigenous fighters, and these moderate Syrian rebels are too weak to police the area.

In early July, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that only 60 moderate rebels were in training, a force “much smaller” than expected. He expected that number to improve, however, saying that as the U.S. learns more about the opposition forces and builds relationships recruiting will become easier. More recently, The Washington Post reported that Jabhat al-Nusra captured U.S.-backed Syrian rebels earlier this month — five of whom were directly trained by U.S. personnel. U.S. officials said that many more members of the Syrian rebel forces have returned to Turkey.

Taşpınar noted that this area is too small to house millions of Syrian refugees. There are roughly 4 million Syrians displaced in neighboring countries, according to a USAID report. More than another 7 million and 12 million are internally displaced and need humanitarian assistance, respectively, in Syria.

What this zone does is break the Kurdish plan to “establish a Kurdish enclave,” he said. The Turks along with the U.S. consider the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terrorist group.

The same report from The Washington Post quoted Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, as saying, “I don’t think we will see anything approaching what even resembles a safe zone” in Syria.

To accomplish this there will have to be access to electricity, water and shelter along with medical facilities.

The U.S. recently sent six F-16, or “Fighting Falcons,” and an additional 300 personnel to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. These aircraft were sent to carry out attacks over northern Syria and close the border after Turkey agreed to the deal.

It has been roughly a year since the coalition began airstrikes in the region. U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that ISIS has the same amount as fighters as it did then, between 20,000 and 30,000.