Ankara’s dilemma: To join for what?

Ankara’s dilemma: To join for what?

As U.S. President Obama has outlined his basic plan to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Ankara is both pressed for time and options in joining the coalition.

The Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Group’s (BPC) Blaise Misztal wrote this initial report after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to Ankara.

“Although Hagel sought to portray his trip as a productive one, he did not walk away with any clear indication of what Turkey was willing to do to counter ISIL. Although Hagel claimed that his meetings with Turkish leaders reaffirmed ‘Turkey’s commitment to be a part of this effort, to destroy ISIL and everything that ISIL represents,’ he nevertheless had to hedge that Turkey would only ‘play roles, specific roles’ and that ‘those will be articulated by the Turkish government … when that decision is made.’”

The BPC then posed the following question for Washington: “Faced with such a hesitant, if not unwilling, ally, U.S. policymakers will need to make two decisions: one to decide just how vital Turkish cooperation is to the anti-ISIL effort and, if it is truly important to get Ankara onboard, how best to do so.”

The feelings are mutual. Ankara is contemplating how and for what to join the coalition against ISIL, especially when the organization is holding 49 Turkish citizens hostage.  Ömer Taşpınar of Brookings told us that even in Washington D.C., there are reporters who have no idea about the hostage incident because of the media blackout.

Another think tank, Center for American Progress (CAP), reported a clearer path for Turkey, suggesting Turkey should at least cooperate in the reconnaissance efforts by establishing an “intelligence fusion cell.” CAP also stresses that MİT’s deep contacts and relations inside ISIL are “strengths” in the fight.
So what can Turkey do, if anything, to secure its borders and citizens and maybe turn this challenge into an opportunity? Former Major for the Turkish Special Forces and current risk analyst Mete Yarar said there are three outstanding issues to be resolved before Turkey intervenes:

1) Hostages
2) The tomb of Süleyman Shah
3) The security of its southern border

Yarar then posed a question, “What if, overnight, 1,500 militants from ISIL storm Ceylanpınar and take over the checkpoint? To be honest, they have the ability to do this.”

What Yarar silently refrained from noting was Turkey’s current inability to stop or disrupt such an attack.

So we are back to square one. Will Turkey do something? Military analysts believe the U.S. is planning a prolonged operation just like Father Bush’s Operation Provide Comfort in 1991, which created a no-fly zone under a humanitarian aid mission. But this time, the terrain is more widespread, and ISIL is a harder enemy than Saddam. Using the Incirlik and Batman bases for logistics and humanitarian missions might be the best bet for the U.S.