What role might Turkey play in the fight against ISIL?
As was expected, the NATO Summit, which took place in Wales on Sept. 4-5, prioritized the ongoing Ukrainian crisis with Russia and the growing threat posed by extremist jihadists in the Middle East as its top immediate issues. Two important decisions were made by the leaders at the summit.
The first is NATO’s decision to set up a new rapid reaction force and maintain a military presence in Eastern Europe in an obvious challenge to Russia’s intentions to further meddle into Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political unity. Turkey endorsed the decision, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed Turkey will not approve of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in his address to NATO leaders, according to the Anadolu Agency.
The second important development was the United States’ call on Western allies to unite in a coalition to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as the threat posed by the world’s deadliest militants is growing by the day. The call came from Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting with foreign and defense ministers from Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey, and non-NATO member Australia.
The first meeting of the so-called “anti-ISIL coalition” introduced its first red line that “there would be no boots on the ground,” meaning no country would be in favor of deploying troops into Iraq or Syria.
Kerry suggested that the coalition partners can train, give advice, assist, equip and ask each of the countries to make clear their potential contribution ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in late September.
Although Washington is still working to finalize a strategy against ISIL, Kerry hinted it will have a holistic approach, meaning “We need to attack them in ways that prevent them from taking over territory, that bolster the Iraqi security forces [and] others in the region who are prepared to take them on, without committing our own troops.”
The holistic approach is also something Turkey is opting for in the fight against ISIL, as President Erdoğan said in his address to NATO leaders Sept. 4, according to the Anadolu Agency. “In a holistic approach, decisive steps should be taken against the violent environment in Iraq and Syria that threatens regional security and stability,” was Erdoğan’s first message. Secondly, he underlined “the need for a comprehensive strategy against terror organizations that benefited from the chaotic situation out of the inaction [of the international community].”
Erdoğan, too, is talking about the need of a holistic approach and comprehensive strategy against ISIL, but is obviously claiming the current problem is a product of the Syrian unrest and of Bashar al-Assad’s cruelty. Therefore, Erdoğan hinted a strategy should be developed to address this question.
The U.S.’s call for a coalition is fresh and we should wait a few days more to get details of the conversation between Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the NATO Summit.
That’s why it will take more time for us to see Turkey’s reaction to this decision in its clearest picture.
However, given the fact that since June 11, 49 Turkish citizens have been and still are being kept as hostages at the hands of ISIL, Turkey’s hands are tied in committing itself actively or passively to the coalition. Turkey will unlikely mobilize its military against ISIL and will hesitate from opening its military bases and facilities, as well as its airspaces to members of the coalition.
However, it will continue to increase intelligence cooperation with Western countries and increase border infiltrations to make recruitment for ISIL more difficult.
As seen, the role Turkey can play in this coalition is seemingly very limited. After Obama and Erdoğan’s meeting, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to the Turkish capital next week will also be quite important before Turkey can make its final conclusion about the international community’s readiness against ISIL militants.