US, Turkey Poised for Joint Anti-ISIS Operation, Despite Differences
by Dorian Jones, Kasim Cindemir November 20, 2015
Turkey and the United States have confirmed that their forces are poised to launch a major military operation to close a 98-kilometer strip of the Turkey-Syria border used by Islamic State.
"We have certain plans to put an end to the control that IS is still exercising on a zone of our frontier," Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu told the Anatolia News Agency. He added that the military operation will be intense.
"You will see this in the days to come," he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass told VOA that IS is using a part of the border for the passage of people and goods.
"Like our other coalition partners we are discussing this issue with the Turkish government," he said. Bass said that they are expecting to intensify cooperation in order to solve the border security problem.
The Turkish government has come under blistering criticism inside Turkey for its handling of IS.
At first, Ankara said little as IS grew – partly, analysts say, because of the Islamist sympathies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party and hopes that IS militants would help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"There is passive support by the government and the security forces of Turkey for IS," Michael Rubin, a Turkey analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA.
After IS unleashed its brutal terror region wide, including inside Turkey, Ankara recently allowed coalition planes on Turkish soil.
But suspicions run deep in Turkey that the government has cooperated with IS. Allegations range from weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance and the provision of medical services.
The Cumhuriyet daily this week published stories that alleged Turkish Intelligence was working hand-in-hand with IS. A former IS spy chief told the paper that during the siege of the Syrian city of Kobani last year, Turkish Intelligence served McDonalds hamburgers to IS fighters that were brought in from Turkey.
Some analysts say the pending border operation could help silence criticism of Ankara's stance towards IS.
'There has been indeed quite a bit of criticism of Turkey's behavior, of Turkey acting more cautious than what its Western partners wanted in the fight against IS," said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.
Added Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish-American political scientist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "Turkey was for some time in a non-aggression pact with IS. But if crackdowns on IS continue that would mean Turkey is moving into combat stage with the group."
Turkey's armed forces have almost exclusively targeted the Kurdish PKK rebel group and the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia group. While the YPG is working with U.S. forces against IS, Turkey accuses it of being affiliated with the PKK.
Meanwhile, Washington and Ankara continue to disagree over how retake Islamic State-controlled areas in Syria.
Erdogan has been pressing for the creation of a safe area, protected by a no-fly zone. This week, however, U.S. President Barack Obama said that would be counterproductive.
Semih Idiz, political columnist for Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper, says even if Ankara can't enforce a no-fly zone, it may be seeking the next best thing: a militarily stabilized frontier that allows for routine specialized military ground operations.
'You clear a certain area, and have crack teams [military special forces] going in there to do jobs and coming out," Idiz said. "That is the kind of ground involvement that I expect will take place in northern Syria and that Turkey will participate in. So there might be a region that is protected with lightning strikes and whatever.'
Observers warn any deployment of Turkish forces into Syria runs the risk of a confrontation with Syrian Kurdish fighters. They also say that the outcome of the war against Islamic State will depend on how successful Washington is in balancing the conflicting demands of Syrian Kurds and Ankara.
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