We really can’t succeed against ISIL without Turkey: US
REUTERS photoU.S. President Barack Obama’s Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Anti-ISIL Coalition, Brett McGurk, who was in Ankara this week to finalize the Incirlik agreement between Turkey and U.S., has said Washington “can’t succeed against Daesh without Turkey,” speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News in an exclusive interview via Skype.
“The threat of Daesh is extremely serious. It’s not going away. It’s growing. It’s a challenge the world has never seen before,” McGurk said, emphasizing the two countries’ close collaboration up to now.
He aslo said Turkish F-16’s will fly with U.S. jets from Incirlik very soon and the only reason Turkey is not yet engaged in anti-ISIL airstrikes are “technical arrangements” that are soon to be finalized.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Following the recent “İncirlik agreement” between Turkey and United States, Turkey started a massive air campaign against outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq. U.S. officials have stated several times that these attacks are not part of the İncirlik deal. Does this mean that the U.S. government was not informed in advance of these airstrikes? And if it was, has it conveyed its consent to this air campaign?
It’s a good question and I’m really happy to clear it up because [a lot that has been said about this] is not right. The negotiations we had with the government of Turkey about opening up İncirlik have been going on for about nine months. There have been very cooperative, constructive negotations. There is a lot of detail to work out and we concluded those talks as two governments on July 7 and 8. We were here with the delegation, myself, Gen. John Allen and some others from our inter-agency. And we had very good discussions over those two days and concluded a set of principles.
Our two presidents, President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and President [Barack] Obama, then spoke a few days later and agreed that these principles were the basis on which to proceed and at that moment, there was an agreement between the two heads of states to open up İncirlik airbase and to begin strike operations against Daesh [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].
Now our military teams are to get together to begin to work out the arrangements for that, and we actually began our manned operations just yesterday and we began unmanned operations a few days ago.
So contemporaneous with all of this, and in fact right around the time that we were concluding our talks, it was the PKK, which the U.S. declares as a terrorist organization together with EU and many of our other partners, that declared that the cease-fire was over and began attacks in Turkey. We have been very clear that the right to self-defense for Turkey is a bedrock principle of ours, Turkey is a long-term partner, an ally of ours and these attacks were started by the PKK. Had the PKK not launched attacks on Turkey, Turkey would not be launching airstrikes against the PKK. So that is what happened. I think it’s important to be very clear about that: The PKK was not a part or an issue that was part of the agreement against Daesh. However, the PKK is a very serious threat to our Turkish partners and therefore, when the PKK launches attacks inside Turkey, Turkey has the right to respond.
We have also said very clearly that we encourage de-escalation; we encourage your return to the solution process. So we have been very clear about this. But this notion that somehow the agreement on İncirlik and the cooperation against Daesh is linked to anything against the PKK is just really fundamentally false. In fact, [it is] one of the points I want to clear up, because I have read in some places that since we reached this agreement, Turkey has done only a couple of airstrikes against Daesh and has done a number of attacks against the PKK. So what about that? And the truth of the matter is, and I can speak to this with some authority, I have been in Ankara now about 10-11 times over the last eight months, the government of Turkey is very eager to begin airstrikes against Daesh. They have been doing them with us now; however, we have to work out military-to-military the arrangements for doing that.
We have a team of our own military professionals here in Turkey now that is working with the Turkish military to work out the arrangements and mechanisms we are doing. So the only reason Turkey is not doing airstrikes against Daesh is because we are in the final stage of working out the arrangements by which they will do that within our coalition. It’s called an air tasking order. It’s very complicated. It’s military-to-military and those arrangements are being finalized now.
So the notion that Turkey is attacking PKK and not Daesh is more an issue about working out the arrangements by which Turkey will be striking Daesh than anything having to do with our agreement with them.
So it’s not because Turkey is prioritizing PKK attacks rather than Daesh targets?
Well, again, let’s be straight. The PKK is a threat to Turkey. The PKK is launching attacks now inside Turkey almost every day. Those attacks have to stop. Daesh is also a threat to Turkey. [ISIL] is a threat to us, and we have a mission from the president to do everything we can through a coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. We are going to do that.
So Turkey faces multiple threats; the PKK is a threat. They are responding to PKK attacks, but they are also concerned about the threat of Daesh. They opened up their airbase for our strike operations. We have begun those now, and very soon Turkish F-16s will be flying with us. And the only reason they are not today is because we have to work out the arrangements military-to-military in an effective way.
Can I repeat my question. Has the Turkish government informed the US government in advance of these airstrikes against the PKK? And if it has, has the US conveyed its consent to this air campaign?
Turkey is a sovereign country. It has the right to defend itself pursuant to its own sovereignty. We have also worked with Turkey over a number of years about its strikes against the PKK in terms of sharing information with agreements with Turkey going back to 2007, and those agreements are still in place. We’ll continue to cooperate with Turkey. I think this all moved very fast, so we’re getting everything worked out. And there was some … concern on our side in the initial hours simply because there are a lot of airplanes in the sky. There is a lot of going on. There are coalition operations. And we have to make sure that everything is coordinated. So there are issues of air-flight safety and our military professionals are here on the ground now working out these arrangements with Turkey. We want to make sure that everything is coordinated so that this is done safely and effectively.
Then shall we expect coordination between the two governments with regard to the attacks against the PKK?
We are not directly coordinating on anything having to do with attacks against the PKK, but we fully respect the right of Turkey to defend itself against these attacks, but I also want to emphasize that we have also called for de-escalation, for everyone to return to the solution process. That’s a bedrock principle of ours. And I think that’s also a principle of the government of Turkey.
Was the U.S. surprised by the scope of the air campaign against the PKK?
No, I don’t think we were surprised. The PKK has been launching attacks inside Turkey almost every day, beginning from the first week or so of July. That has really to stop. Had the PKK not launched attacks inside Turkey, Turkey would not be launching attacks against the PKK.
How long do you expect these operations against the PKK to last?
I would rather refer that question to the government of Turkey. I don’t think there has been an attack inside Iraq now in a week or so. But I would ask the government of Turkey.
Do these attacks by Turkey hinder US cooperation with the Democatic People’s Party (PYD), as the PYD has PKK elements in its cadres, and hence its fight against ISIL?
The PKK is a designated terrorist organization. The PYD under our laws has a different status. The PYD and the People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria have been very effective against Daesh. We obviously are helping in terms of helping airstrikes to weaken Daesh in these areas. And again, I want to be very clear to your readers: Our mission from the president is to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. There are groups on the ground fighting with Daesh and the groups that we work with and will work with. So we have been helping to enable these very effective operations by the Syrian Kurds and also by a number of Arab and Christian groups in this area that are also working with us and arming themselves to fight Daesh. Those operations have been extremely effective. Closing off that border region to Daesh has been very effective. Isolating Raqqa, which is Daesh’s administrative capital, is a key component of our campaign. So this cooperation will continue.
And we are also in constant communication with the government of Turkey. So there are a lot of actors here. I want to make sure that everything is done as transparently as possible. Certainly our work with Syrian Kurds will continue to the extent they will continue to fight with Daesh.
Do you think cooperation between Turkey and the PYD would boost the anti-ISIL fight? And if so, is the U.S. trying to convince both sides to come to better terms? Do you expect any rapprochement and cooperation between them in the future?
I will not get into all of our diplomatic conversations, but certainly the PYD has a vision for Syria, and we want to make sure that the territorial integrity of Syria is maintained. That’s a bedrock principle of ours that we discuss with the PYD. We are talking to the PYD. Turkey is talking to the PYD. Everybody is talking to each other. But I leave it to the government of Turkey in terms of their formal relationship with the PYD.
Do you think cooperation between them is feasible anytime soon?
I think cooperation [between] groups that are fighting Daesh and that have a vision for Syria maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity and also have a vision for a post-Daesh Syria in which human rights are maintained … and the coalition is very beneficial.
We have seen particularly in northern Syria which really started with Kobane –which I’m happy to talk about – that these Syrian Kurdish fighters are extremely effective against Daesh. And in Turkey something that I don’t think is broadly understood outside of Turkey [is that] Kobane was about to fall to Daesh. We made a decision and President Obama made a decision in October that we would try to help the defenders of Kobane … to defend their town. Had we not made that decision, I think Kobane would probably have fallen. And Turkey had already been flooded with about 200,000 refugees [from Kobane]. It was an extremely serious situation. You may recall the U.S. military did an airdrop to Kobane with arms supply at a very critical time.
And Turkey allowed peshmerga pass through its territory to Kobane
Yes, that’s a very good point because I think it’s lost when the history is told. Then we came here and negotiated with Turkey. In fact, General Allen and myself were here and till late at night with Prime Minister [Ahmet] Davutoğlu talked about the situation in Kobane, the fact that they needed a supply corridor and Turkey immediately agreed to open up this corridor for the Kurdish peshmerga. We then went to Arbil to work with the Kurdistan Regional Government about that. And we did open up that corridor. That corridor allowed some critical munitions and heavy weapons to get into Kobane at a critical time. And all of that combined with our air campaign helped to turn the tide in Kobane, and Turkey was very important to all.
So that means you think cooperation between them is feasible in the future as well?
I would leave it to the government of Turkey, but I certainly argue that [with] groups that are fighting Daesh on the ground and groups that have a general moderate outlook for a post-Daesh future in Syria, the more cooperation the better.
Regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey, President Erdoğan stated clearly that the peace process is frozen now. How do you evaluate this situation and would this affect negatively the U.S.’ cooperation with the PYD in anyway?
I’m one of the president’s envoys on the global coalition against Daesh. When it comes to internal Turkish politics, I don’t want to offer my opinion on that. I know there is a lot of active politics here in Turkey, there is a lot of politics in my country at home, a lot of politics throughout the region. But it’s very important for us to focus everybody on the common threat against Daesh. I was just in Arbil and Sulaymaniyah, and we were encouraging very much the Kurdish parties in northern Iraq to focus on the common threat of Daesh.
So I would leave it to the Turkish political leaders in terms of politics here but it’s very much our view that the threat of Daesh is extremely serious. It’s not going away. It’s growing. It’s a challenge the world has never seen before. The statistics are kind of off the charts. If you look at the threat of foreign fighters in the 1980s in Afghanistan, it’s about twice as many now have come to fight with Daesh. And they’ve come from over 100 countries all around the world. There are over 26,000. And we know what the 1980s in Afghanistan led to with al-Qaeda.
So this is an extremely serious threat and challenge. We need the whole coalition to come together and the international community to get a handle on it. And Turkey is a central partner in it both for its geography, but also for its common values and interests. This is why we have invested so much time in Ankara to work with Turkey and to come to mutual agreements to help accelerate the fight against Daesh.
I think there are some Turkish liaison officers in the military headquarters of the coalition against ISIL, such as in Arbil and Qatar. Is this right? Are there also representatives of the PYD in the local headquarters?
We do not have PYD representatives but in our air campaign which is coordinated everyday out of Qatar, we have coalition representatives from across the coalition. And now that Turkey is formally joining the air campaign, they will be a key member of that operation in Qatar. And one thing that we are working with Turkey very closely now is to work out all these arrangements. And it’s complicated. The air campaign has been going on for a year and actually started about a year ago just last week. We have done now more than 6,000 airstrikes. We have a way of doing things. And it is one of the most precise air campaigns in history. We want to make sure we maintain it that way. We are now bringing Turkey into the process, which is very important to us. To get Turkey integrated from a new platform here in Turkey and also to get Turkish F-16’s in the sky, that is what we are actively working on through military-to-military arrangements.
So there are no PYD representatives in the headquarters in Arbil?
In Arbil we have relationships with a number of people. We don’t have a formal representative at that basis. But of course it’s very clear that when Syrian Kurds are operating against Daesh, we want to make sure we know where everybody is so our air campaign can be effective and precise. So we have ways to communicate with them on the ground and that has been very effective. And those communications go up through our chains of command, so Arbil is one piece of that but it goes up all the way then to Qatar where the air campaign is managed.
So the PYD’s representation in those headquarters is not official yet?
It’s not official. We communicate with a number of groups on the ground fighting Daesh because we want to have good information to make sure that our air campaign is effective.
President Obama stated on June 8 that “Turkey has not fully ramped up the capacity it needs.” Do you think he would make the same statement today? Or has Turkey ramped up the capacity needed?
A lot happened between June 8 and July 22 when President Obama spoke with President Erdoğan. I would say where we are right now, the government of Turkey has made very clear that it is fully committed to the campaign against Daesh and it has opened up its air facilities for coalition aircraft to fly to strike against Daesh. That happened last night. That’s a real game-changer. The flight from İncirlik airbase to Syria is about 15 minutes. The flight for an aircraft from the Gulf, from Bahrain to Syria is about 3 hours. That’s a significant difference. And that has now begun.
Turkey has also cracked down on a number of foreign fighter facilitation networks here inside Turkey and we share a lot of information and cooperating fully on that. So certainly a lot has happened since President Obama made that statement and I know his conversation with President Erdoğan was very positive, very constructive and also very fruitful. So we are moving forward on that basis.
What do you and shall we expect from Turkey concretely in its contribution to the anti-ISIL fight in the upcoming term? When will it resume its operations against ISIL? When will U.S.-Turkey start joint operations? Will other bases than İncirlik be used by the U.S. as well?
Joint flight operations will start fairly soon. We are working on the arrangements and it’s a military-to-military effort but the only issue there is integrating the whole thing. So when it starts, it’s in an effective way. And once it starts, it will continue. So I think that will be a major moment and that should start fairly soon.
Turkey is also working on a number of areas. The fight against Daesh isn’t just military. There are also countering foreign fighters in which Turkey is the chair of one of our coalition working groups on countering foreign fighters. There is also counter-financing and sharing information with Turkey about what we know about Daesh financing, which has been very important and very critical and that will continue.
There is also humanitarian support given that we have so many refugees in the area Daesh has controlled and Turkey is one of the most impacted countries in the region facing a humanitarian challenge.
And then there is the military support to our partners and Turkey is a critical member. So cross all five lines of effort within the international coalition, Turkey is a key member in all these areas. That’s why we have been here so much. We really can’t succeed against Daesh without Turkey.
Shall we expect Turkey to resume its operations against ISIL soon?
Yes, it is entirely an issue of working the military technicalities and making sure everything is integrated. It’s complicated.
I defer to my military colleagues here, but it’s everything from the radar networks to making sure everything is together, because Turkey is now joining an air campaign that has been ongoing for a year. So it’s kind of a – to use an analogy which is particularly apt, it’s like you’re flying a plane in flight and then you’re kind of adding something else to the plane in the middle of the flight.
And so the plane has been running very smoothly for a year, we’ve done over 6,000 airstrikes, and we’re very careful about how we apply our air power. And we’re now adding Turkey to that operation. That means Turkish F-16s, and also flying off of Turkish bases. So we were able to begin last night with our F-16s, and that was a very fast turnaround from the time President Obama and President Erdoğan spoke. So we’re moving very rapidly, and we’re going to add Turkey to those operations as soon as possible.
Will other bases than İncirlik be used by the U.S. as well?
The Turkish government has made that offer but it depends on what the military necessities are and what’s needed.
There is a big discrepancy between the public statements of U.S. and Turkish officials on the question of a safe zone and no-fly zone and this causes confusion among many Turkish people. While Turkish officials call for a safe zone or no-fly zone, U.S. officials insistently oppose this idea. An “ISIL-free zone” seems to be the term which they agreed on. Would you agree with that? And could you please explain why the U.S. stands against the formation of a safe zone? Is it because it carries the risk of a clash with the regime’s forces?
It’s a great question and what has changed is that now we have an agreement with Turkey on a set of principles about what we will try to do together. Step one of that, the first basis, is the air campaign that’s now moving forward. The second phase is to try to clear Daesh out of this very critical strategically located area in Syria from Azaz to Jarabulus. That is a primary hub for Daesh. Daesh has been reinforcing for about a year it now. They are there in force and we have to clear them out.
And there are a number of other things going on in the campaign, how this all fits together, but it’s a really critical piece of terrain. It has to do with how they supply their foreign fighters, and there are a whole host of reasons it’s very important. So we’ve been talking to Turkey about how can we work together to do this. We want Syrians on the ground to do this. This is not going to involve U.S. troops; it’s not going to involve Turkish troops. So we’re looking to work together to organize Syrian forces on the ground in Syria - Syrian moderate opposition forces - to be able to operate effectively against Daesh in this very critical and strategic area.
Now, how you do that, how you go about doing it? We haven’t agreed yet because we’re talking to Turkey about, now that we’ve agreed on a principle and a framework, how you actually go about doing it militarily. And that is where I defer to my military colleagues who have been here in Turkey talking to the Turks about how to do this. And those talks have actually been going very well. It’s extremely complicated. We don’t want to do this fast; we want to do it right. And it’s already started. The airstrikes last night from U.S. F-16s flying out of İncirlik hit about 16 targets in this strategic area, and that’s going to continue.
So I think the talk about a safe zone and no-fly zone are the vestiges of the debate we’ve had over the last two years in which we know the position of the government of Turkey about establishing a no-fly zone. Of course, the United States does not support a no-fly zone for a number of reasons. But I don’t think it’s useful to go back to that debate or to have that debate color where we are right now. We agreed that we have to focus and concentrate efforts on this particular area, and we’re working out now how to do it. And then afterwards, once we clear Daesh out of this area, of course, we want to have the conditions that allow for refugees to voluntarily return to their homes. But that’s going to take some time, and so we’re not at that point yet.
So we’re not really focused on what we call it. What’s really important is we want to get Daesh out of this area. We want to restore life to this very important area of Syria, and we’re going to be working with Turkey together for how to do that.
You said there are a number of reasons why the U.S. doesn’t support a safe zone. What are those reasons? Is it related to the international community’s approval? Or is it linked to the risk of a clash with the Syrian regime’s forces?
I think the word “safe zone” harkens back to the debate we had about a no-fly zone, and again, we just don’t think it’s a very useful debate. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. The objective is to get Daesh out of this critical area of the border, as we have worked with other groups across Syria and also in Iraq to get Daesh out of critical terrain and critical towns in Iraq and also in northern Syria. So that is the objective. So if you want to call it an ISIL-free zone, that’s fine. We’re going to defeat ISIL in this critical area, and we want to establish the conditions for life to return.
We’re not talking about hypotheticals here. We’ve been in this air campaign for a year. We’ve learned an awful lot. And where we are able to fly in great density - take Kobane or take other areas - we really totally control that airspace. So flying out of İncirlik, and Turkey flying with us out of İncirlik, the possibility of other coalition partners flying out of İncirlik, will really change the whole game in this critical area of the northern border. And we just don’t want to get focused on the terminology and what it’s called. We really want to get focused on “how do you get Daesh out of this area?”
You mentioned “moderate opposition forces” on the ground in Syria. Who are the moderate rebels for the U.S.? For example, is Ahrar ash-Sham part of the moderate rebels? And can we assume that Turkey and the U.S. have agreed on which rebels to support?
It’s a good question. We don’t work with Ahrar ash-Sham for a whole host of reasons. We have agreed with Turkey that the groups we will work together will be mutually agreed upon. And there are a number of groups. That’s one thing we are talking to Turkey about now. Who will be part of this, how you do it, that’s something we are discussing now. But there is a set of groups we have mutually agreed on; there’s a very large pool from which to draw.
Recently, diplomacy between the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia has intensified and U.S. officials, including President Obama, are increasingly mentioning a political transition in Syria. Does this mean that the U.S. has started concretely working on a political solution without al-Assad? Do you expect Russia and Iran to withdraw their support from al-Assad anytime soon?
I think everybody recognizes that there’s no stable future in Syria with Bashar al-Assad as the head of the regime in Damascus. So therefore the only way to end this terrible conflict is with a political transition that leads to the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. I think there’s an emerging, very broad consensus on this point, and there’s a lot of diplomatic activity, as you’ve said. Secretary Kerry was recently in Doha meeting with Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia to talk about – specifically about Syria. So there is a lot of diplomatic activity. There are a lot of new ideas emerging.
But what is really emerging as a consensus is that the only way to stabilize Syria and bring an end to this terrible conflict is through a political transition process that leads to the departure of Bashar al-Assad.
So should we expect a joint political solution coming from the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia in the near future?
Well, I think it’s everybody’s hope that we can reach a consensus on a political transition framework that will be accepted by the Syrians. This is ultimately about the future of Syria, so that is what these discussions are about. But I just wouldn’t want to speculate now about where they will lead.
But is your hope rising after these negotiations?
I think that anyone who’s been through these conflicts over the last decade would never say that hope is rising. What you do say is that we have to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can diplomatically to work on diplomatic and political solutions. That is why Secretary Kerry has been so active with the Russians, the Saudis, and many others to try to get on a common framework and a common path to bring an end to this terrible conflict.
Following March 1, 2003, the Turkish Parliament’s rejection of the U.S. proposal to base U.S. troops on Turkish soil, relations between Pentagon and the Turkish military establishment were strained. Do you think the recent İncirlik air base agreement has restored those relations and returned them to their good old days?
I don’t know. I wasn’t doing this in 2003. I’ll just say that in my experience we have an incredibly close relationship with the Turkish military, and particularly our military professionals who are here all the time working very directly with Turkish military officers and Turkish soldiers. So I think the relationship is very close.
I do think that since we struck this agreement, we have certainly really accelerated our military-to-military engagement to work out the technical arrangements, and to work out how to actually implement the vision that was outlined in the call between our two presidents. So certainly I think this agreement has real potential to further deepen what I would say are already deep ties between our two militaries.
So those ties have reached their previous level of cooperation?
I wouldn’t want to compare it to a past time. All I can do is speak to my experience, particularly right now here in Ankara. I’m always very honored to be here in Ankara, and right now, as we speak, our military experts, some of our best people from EUCOM, from CENTCOM, from across our Defense Department, are working very closely with an interagency team from Turkey to implement the arrangements that we’ve agreed upon. That cooperation has been going very, very well. The meetings are extremely constructive. They’re very positive. We have a mutual vision for what we want to do against Daesh. We are now working militarily-to-militarily to work out the arrangements to do that.
Frankly, how long do you expect this war to go on? What do you think will be the end result in Iraq and Syria?
Look, our mission against Daesh is to defeat Daesh, and we’re going to do all we can for as long as it takes to defeat Daesh. We have outlined a general principle that we think it will take across Iraq and Syria. I think we have to be very realistic. This is very difficult. The fighting on the ground is being done by partners on the ground. It’s not being done by U.S. soldiers. It’s not being done by Turkish soldiers. So everybody has to have a little bit of strategic patience.
But we also want to defeat Daesh as soon as possible, because everywhere that Daesh is controlling areas it is enslaving women, it is killing people in town squares every single day, and it is a terrible situation for the people living under Daesh. So we are going to work – the U.S., Turkey, the international coalition, our Syrian partners on the ground, and our Iraqi partners on the ground – to constrict, squeeze, and ultimately to defeat Daesh. It’s going to take some time, but we want to do it as fast as we possibly can.
And that “some time” might be a decade or?
Well, again, what we put on and when we looked at it analytically last summer, we put about a three-year campaign plan together. We think it’ll take about three years to really degrade the organization. But I think you have to keep in mind that even once we defeat Daesh and get them out of places like Raqqah, Mosul, Ramadi – which we will – they will remain a cellular terrorist organization.
Even in 2011-2012, when violence went down substantially in Iraq and people thought Daesh’s predecessor organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, was defeated, it was still launching about five to 10 suicide bombers every week or every month. It killed over 4,000 Iraqis over those two years. So we want to make sure that we really defeat it, to the point where it can’t do that anymore. It is now continuing with terrible suicide attacks. There was one in Baghdad today killing about 60 people in eastern Baghdad.
So it wants to control territory. It wants to snuff the life out of these areas. And it also wants to remain a cellular terrorist organization. We want to try to defeat it in all facets. We want to take away its territory. We want to take away its financing. We want to take away its recruiting tools. We want to dry up the foreign fighter networks not only in Syria and Iraq but across the entire globe. That is going to take time. But we have built an international coalition to do it. Turkey is a key partner of that coalition, and we’re going to keep pressing at it.
You think Iraq and Syria will remain as unitary states?
Well, the vision for Iraq, which is the Iraqi vision as outlined in their constitution, is for a united federal and democratic Iraq. And one of the key words is federal. That’s a principle of decentralization of powers, and that’s a key principle of Prime Minister al-Abadi. This makes al-Abadi very different from the former prime minister, who was really a believer in greatly centralized power. Prime Minister al-Abadi believes in decentralizing power and a more federal nature of governance. We call it a “functioning federalism.” We believe that is the model that’s outlined in Iraq’s constitution. It’s their vision, the vision of the Iraqi government. We do believe that’s a model for a stabilized Iraq – a functioning federalism.
In Syria, given the state of the conflict right now – I know it’s very difficult to foresee how Syria can be stabilized – but our principles are very clear. We believe in the territorial integrity of Syria, and it’s ultimately up for Syrians to determine what the post-Assad future in Syria will look like.
When should we expect other coalition partners such as France, Britain and also Gulf countries to join the air strikes against ISIL and use the İncirlik air base?
Well, these are decisions both for the government of Turkey to invite coalition partners, and they’ve made clear that they would welcome coalition partners. But they have to invite individual capitals. Most importantly, they are decisions for the individual capitals of those coalition partners. So Britain, France and Australia have all said they are looking at joining the air campaign in Syria, but they have to work through their own national political process, because right now those countries are only conducting operations in Iraq.
We would, of course, welcome those countries being a full part of the air campaign in Syria. Of course, that would be most effective from here in Turkey and from İncirlik. But these are discussions that will be ongoing between those capitals. So I think we have to go step by step.
I think that since President Erdoğan and President Obama spoke on July 22, we have moved very fast. It was within a matter of about two weeks that we began unmanned operations striking Daesh flying from İncirlik. Just last night our first U.S. F-16s began airstrikes against Daesh from İncirlik. The next step is to get Turkey fully integrated into our air campaign, and that should happen soon. Then we will address the question of additional coalition partners. But that will ultimately be a decision for the government of Turkey and for the capitals of the coalition partners.
And Gulf countries? Are they also discussing when to start launching air strikes together with the U.S. and Turkey?
I think we want to go step by step. We have Gulf partners who are a part of the air campaign in Syria, and we think the air campaign in Syria can be really enhanced by flying out of İncirlik. So again these are conversations that are going to be ongoing, but I just want to emphasize where we are now. We reached this agreement a little less than a month ago. We’ve moved very rapidly to begin our U.S. airstrikes out of İncirlik. Those are now beginning. We’re going to bring Turkey into the campaign very soon, and then we’ll address the question of the coalition partners.