Turkey Joins Bombing Bonanza Against ISIS in Syria

Naji Dahi
July 24, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) In a major new development, Turkey has finally entered the war against Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL). The Associated Press is reporting that the Turkish air force conducted a first-ever airstrike against Islamic State positions in Syria:

“In a major tactical shift, Turkish warplanes struck Islamic State group targets Friday across the border in Syria, Turkish officials announced — a move that came a day after IS militants fired at a Turkish military outpost. A Syrian rights group said the airstrikes killed nine IS fighters.”

Turkey joins dozens of other countries who are already engaged in military operations against the Islamic State. They are also allowing the U.S. to use an American airbase in Turkey—Incirlik—to conduct U.S. airstrikes. As the Associated Press reported,

“Turkey has agreed to let the U.S. use the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey for military operations against Islamic State militants, ‘within a certain framework,’ Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed Friday. Erdogan did not elaborate on details of the agreement, which U.S. and Turkish officials had said Erdogan had made in a telephone conversation earlier this week with President Barak [sic] Obama.”

This week was pivotal in Turkey’s decision to join the fight. On Monday, an IS suicide bomber attacked the southern Turkish border town of Suruc. The attack killed 32 Kurdish youths and left more than 100 wounded. The Kurdish youths were meeting to organize a rebuilding effort of the town of Kobani in Syria. Suruc played a pivotal role in helping YPG rebels take control of Kobani and Tal Abyad from IS. According to the BBC,

“Suruc is a small Kurdish-majority city just a 15 minute drive from the border with Kobane. Kurdish activists in Suruc played a vital role during the siege of Kobane, sending food and medicine to the YPG Kurdish fighters to bolster their supplies. Many journalists and foreign fighters who wanted to go to Kobane went to Suruc and from there were sent on. At the time of the attack, 300 young activists were preparing to make a statement and cross the border into Kobane to help to rebuild the city.”

On Thursday, Turkish soldiers exchanged gunfire with IS fighters on the border with Syria. The firefight left one Turkish soldier dead. According to CNN,

“A cross-border gunfight erupted Thursday between suspected ISIS militants in Syria and troops in Turkey, leaving at least one Turkish soldier dead and prompting Turkey to fire artillery at other positions inside its southern neighbor…”

Two years ago, the Turkish parliament voted to authorize the Turkish military to conduct operations against IS. Nevertheless, the Turkish military stood idly by while violent events unraveled along the long and porous Turkish-Syrian border. Commenting in a Time article, Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, said,

“ISIS and Turkey had a nearly two-year-long Cold War in which they avoided fighting, with the knowledge that their confrontation would lead to destruction on both sides…That Cold War is definitely over.”

Turkey’s hesitation to join the war against IS stemmed from two major factors. First, Turkish leaders strongly believe that the problem in Syria is not IS, but rather the Bashar al-Assad regime. Turkey believes fighting IS only is not enough because IS is a response to the brutality the Syrian regime used in crushing the once peaceful uprising that began against the Assad regime in 2011. According to Hakan Altinay, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute,

“The Turkish government thinks only fighting ISIS is just dealing with the symptom and not the cause…Turkey sees the rise of ISIS as a result of Sunni discontent with Assad’s Alawite regime.”

Second, Turkey is fearful that defeating IS will strengthen the power of Kurdish militias fighting IS on the ground under the cover of U.S. airstrikes. Lead by the YPG, these Kurdish militias have made no secret of their desire to set-up an autonomous region in northern Syria—Rojava— on the border with Turkey. If that comes to pass, Turkey is concerned that similar demands will be made by Turkish Kurds in the southeastern parts of Turkey. As Juan Cole reported,

“Erdogan [President of Turkey] is furious about any strengthening of the Syrian Kurds on his border…Erdogan is absolutely livid. He denounces this development as a future threat to Turkey, even though he had not denounced Daesh [Arabic name for IS] as such…[the] prospect of a new Syrian-Kurdish state, Rojava, bordering southeastern Turkey…this state would be ruled by a PKK branch or ally, evoking for Turkish leaders the horrors of the dirty war of the 1980s and 1990s when 30,000 died in eastern Anatolia.”

Now that Turkey has joined the fight against IS, it is anyone’s guess what the defeat of IS will do to Turkish fears of a resurgent Bashar al-Assad regime and a resurgent Kurdish separatist movement in northern Syria and southeastern Turkey.

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Naji Dahi joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in June of 2015. His topics of interest include American politics, Middle East politics, foreign policy, electric cars, electric gadgets, and yoga. Born in Syria, he currently resides in Long Beach, California. Learn more about Dahi here!