Anti-ISIL fight alla Turca

Anti-ISIL fight alla Turca

Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said on April 13 that theTurkish security forces had killed 362 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants since July 2015 with its cross-border artillery fire against targets in Syria.

He made this statement in the Syria border town of Kilis, where he was sent by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to stage inspections, together with Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan. According to official sources, the reason for the inspections was the falling of ISIL shells on Kilis for three consecutive days, causing civilian causalities. 

Some 120,000 Syrian migrants are living in Kilis, which had an original population of just 90,000. For that reason the Turkish government has backed the idea that the Nobel Peace Prize should be given to the town as a symbol of the peaceful cohabitation of migrants and hosts. A ceremony has been scheduled to take place on April 16 to announce the candidacy, but it was made clear on April 13 that a much desired guest, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reportedly backed the idea, will not be coming.

Kilis, already targeted by ISIL attacks, is likely to be even more on the frontline in the event of a move by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, as it is close to the much discussed “Jarabulus-Mare line,” a key front in the fight against the terrorist organization.

Ankara wants to make it clear that Turkey is a target of ISIL and is doing its best to fight against it. But on the same day as the high-level security inspection along the border, there were press reports regarding a security flop ahead of the major ISIL bombing that claimed many lives in Ankara last October. Daily Cumhuriyet quoted an investigation report after the suicide bomb attack in the capital on Oct. 10, 2015, in which 103 people were killed, which stated that a police intelligence officer did not pass on a warning about a possible attack 25 days before the bombings, in which the name of one of the bombers was cited, “because of negligence or other motivations.” No court case was opened against the police officer responsible because no permission was given by the Ankara governor, and no prosecutor objected to this decision. (It should also be said that no investigation permission was given to prosecutors who wanted to look into possible security failures over the Feb. 17 suicide attack in Ankara, which killed 28 people and which was claimed by a shadow organization of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party - PKK).

The point is the Turkish government was late, like some other governments, to understand the real nature and threat of ISIL until its raid on the Turkish Consulate in Mosul on June 10, 2014. By then, ISIL had already established cells within Turkey, some of which recruited from former al-Qaeda cells. The 913-km border with Syria was still vulnerable up until mid-2015, which allowed “foreign fighters” to abuse it by going into and out of Syria via Turkey.

Now, acknowledging that it is among ISIL’s top targets, the Turkish government, siding with its NATO allies, is stepping up its fight against ISIL. Still, it has caveats about the U.S. assisting the militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, which is a sister organization of the PKK. The U.S. needs the PYD as a ground force, since there are no Western boots on the ground in Syria. Ankara says the fight against terrorism should be considered as a whole and one should not collaborate with one terrorist movement against another; the U.S. says the current priority is to defeat ISIL, while ironically acknowledging that the PKK poses an imminent threat to Turkey.

This is a complicated picture, but that is the reality of the region. The fight against ISIL gained steam a bit late and still with drawbacks, but at least it now seems to be in place.