US ‘asked Turkey’ to wait for its jets before hitting ISIL
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
REUTERS photoThe United States officially asked Turkey to stop its independent aerial strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) positions in Syria until it actively joins an international coalition so as to ensure coordination between the Turkish army and coalition members.
“While we are working out those details, which involve making sure that everyone who is flying over Syria and Iraq can do so safely because it is a pretty narrow, confined amount of airspace for a lot of high-speed aircraft to be operating in … we asked the Turkish military not to conduct independent strikes against DAESH [the Arabic acronym for ISIL]. And we expect that the Turkish military will begin conducting more operations against DAESH in the very near future,” a Western diplomat told a group of journalists Aug. 6 in Ankara.
Turkey launched a small aerial military campaign against ISIL positions inside Syria on July 24 in retaliation for a suicide bombing allegedly perpetrated by the jihadist organization in the southeastern district of Suruç on July 20 that killed 32 socialist youth activists and wounded dozens more. The Western diplomat underlined that the Turkish military will soon resume its operations against ISIL after working out all the military details.
Turkey and the U.S. have reached an agreement to allow American warplanes and other coalition members to use Turkish military facilities in attacks against ISIL with the participation of the Turkish military in efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL.
The agreement between the two allies will create a great deal of additional pressure on ISIL, the diplomat said, citing Turkey’s geography and the proximity of a number of its military facilities along the border to the areas of conflict as the most important ones. “[That] will enable us to apply additional military pressure on DAESH, and to do so with greater frequency and greater intensity. And we think that will have an important qualitative difference in our ability to put additional military pressure on DAESH,” the diplomat said.
No trading on ISIL-PKK operations
Placing an importance on Turkey’s participation in the anti-ISIL fight, the diplomat rejected the perception “that Turkey is not serious about the fight against ISIL and is using an agreement with the U.S. on access to bases as a cover to conduct a series of punishing operations against the PKK.” The PKK is the acronym of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.
“That is not an accurate characterization of the Turkish commitment and I believe that it is too short-sighted in assessing what is going to be required as part of this commitment to fight DAESH. As a number of U.S. officials have said, there was no deal, there was no trade between the U.S. and Turkey related to operations against DAESH and the Turkish government’s decision to conduct military operations in response to attacks by the PKK,” the diplomat added.
The new phase of the cooperation between the two countries against ISIL should be seen in a framework for a long-term commitment, the diplomat said, underlining the need to evaluate the impact and results of this campaign over a longer period of time. The agreement has already been put in place as U.S. armed drones deployed in İncirlik hit ISIL positions in Syria.
The next step will be the deployment of manned strike aircrafts and other aircrafts at İncirlik which will begin conducting aerial operations very soon. The number of U.S. warplanes to be deployed in Turkey will be substantial, the diplomat said, adding that the number would grow in time.
Apart from aerial operations, Turkey and the U.S. will also work to clear the Turkish border of ISIL in a durable and sustainable way so that the jihadists will no longer have control of the border and no longer be able to exploit that proximity with Turkey to smuggle in people, equipment and supplies that enable it to replace some of its losses in the battlefield. In addition to these, the two governments are also working on additional law enforcement means to stop ISIL recruitment of people.
The agreement between the two countries include the opening of İncirlik to the U.S. and other coalition member countries, although Turkey proposed the opening of another of its military facilities to be used as part of anti-ISIL fight, the Western diplomat said. Turkey’s offer is still being examined by the two countries’ military officials, the official added.
US urges PYD
The Turkish and American joint endeavor of removing ISIL from the Turkish border requires the partnership of local forces, including Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), who will be provided support through aerial cover in their effective fight against ISIL.
The Western diplomat said the Turkish and American militaries were working to find the best and most effective ways to provide support to local forces although Turkey has reservations on the real objectives of the PYD.
“We don’t support local forces in Syria that are fighting DAESH taking advantage of that situation and to change the demography within areas that DAESH is expelled from,” the diplomat said. “We have been making clear to the PYD our expectation that people – Syrian Arab, Syrian Turkmen and even possibly Syrian Kurds who were displaced in north central Syria around Tal Abyad should have the ability to go home as they want to do and feel safe to do so.”
The diplomat recalled U.S. support to Turkey’s right to self-defense against the PKK but underlined the need to return to peaceful democratic means for the solution of the problem. “We believe that the last thing Turkey needs, or this region needs, is another intensive extended conflict and more violence, the diplomat said. “The first step to return to that solution process comes with breaking that cycle of violence. And breaking that cycle of violence should begin with the PKK ceasing its attacks and its terrorism.”
Another message delivered by the Western diplomat was on the ongoing coalition-making process, especially in the middle of all the conflict and violence surrounding Turkey and occurring in parts of Turkey.
“The first point I would make is that we will work with the elected government of Turkey, whatever government emerges from this process. But much more important than what we think about this process from our perspective is what Turkish citizens think about this process,” the diplomat said. “And with respect to that, we would hope that the current process produces a result that allows Turkish citizens to feel that their choices have been respected.”