Is Turkey out of the anti-ISIL raids?
German Tornado jets, together with some 550 troopers, began to arrive at Turkey’s strategic İncirlik Airbase on Dec. 10 in order to join the U.S.-led coalition campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). According to a ruling by the German parliament they will not take part in strikes, but they will engage in intelligence operations and also give protection to fighters striking ISIL targets in Syria.
The German planes will also strengthen Turkey’s air defense against the Russian presence in Syria. In the same capacity, German warships are in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to escort the French aircraft carrier there to join the anti-ISIL fight with Rafale and Super-Etendard jets on board. There are French Mirage fighter-bombers deployed in Jordan for the same purpose.
British Tornado fighters are also carrying out attacks on ISIL targets in Syria from their bases in Cyprus, while American F-16s and A-10s have been doing the same thing since July from İncirlik.
However, Turkish F-16s have been unable to join the anti-ISIL strikes since Nov. 24, when one of them shot down a Russian Su-24 on the grounds that it violated the Turkish border despite a number of high-level diplomatic contacts about repeated violations. Since the downing, there has been an unspoken concern about a possible Russian (or Syrian) reaction against any Turkish jet in Syrian air space. Such a concern will remain until the matter settles down between Ankara and Moscow, which doesn’t seem likely to happen soon.
As a result, Turkey, which has opened its strategic bases and air space to the fight against ISIL, cannot actively join the strikes. However, it is worth questioning whether the Turkish government has any objection to that state of affairs, as it also means that more jets will be allocated to patrols along the 910-kilometer-long Syrian border and also strikes against outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in Turkey and Iraq.
On the other hand, there is an additional problem in Iraq regarding both ISIL and the PKK. The additional deployment of Turkish troops to a military training camp near Mosul, ostensibly to train Iraqis to retake the city from ISIL, has created a row between Ankara and Baghdad. While Masoud Barzani, the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), was in Turkey for high-level talks for more cooperation, Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan and Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who is back at his position after serving as foreign minister in the temporary election government, were in Baghdad to try to settle the crisis down.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet soon over the future of Syria, with the presence of the U.N. secretary general. Before the Russian jet incident, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were set to be in those talks too. However, at least for now the downing of the plane seems to have excluded Turkey from those talks, like the air strikes against ISIL.