Turkey’s anti-terror fight on three fronts

Turkey’s anti-terror fight on three fronts

Most countries, especially in the West, had no awareness of a terrorism threat on their territory until al-Qaeda’s shocking acts on Sept. 11, 2001. In a sense, 9/11 was the opening act of a wave of global guerilla warfare.

Of course, before 9/11 there was also a wave of radical left-wing terrorism in the 1970s like the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader-Meinhoff in Germany, and the Revolutionary Organization 17 November in Greece. There were also raids, hijackings and kidnappings by Palestinian groups. In the U.K. there was (and partly still is) the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and in Spain there was the Basque Country and Freedom (ETA) group - both expressing ethnic/sectarian-origin radicalism and causing the two countries to develop decades-long anti-terror strategies. 

But there are not many countries in the world that have to carry out an anti-terror fight against more than one organization on more than one front, (perhaps with the exception of Israel, fighting both Hamas and Hezbollah). Today’s Turkey is carrying out an anti-terror fight on three fronts and against three organizations at once: One local, one regional, and the third global in scale.

Locally, the Turkish security services have been trying to counter acts of terror by the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), aiming not only at official state targets but also at business and political targets and American targets in Turkey.

Regionally, there is the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an armed campaign since 1984 that has claimed more than 40,000 lives so far. The PKK’s original strategy was to carve out an independent Kurdish state out of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. With the collapse last year of a three-year dialogue process, the PKK resumed its attacks – which have now extended to suicide bombings in the public places of big cities, without identifying any particular target. Its political-military headquarters is located in the Kandil Mountains of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) territory in Iraq and its diplomatic headquarters is located in Brussels. The PKK’s Syria branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has been helping the U.S. and other Western raids against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a ground force, putting Turkey at odds with the U.S. and other NATO allies.

Globally, Turkey is now fighting against ISIL. Along with carrying out a number of suicide bombings in public places in Turkey, ISIL has been shelling Turkish towns near the Syria border, trying to deter Ankara from engaging in the anti-ISIL fight. Despite some disagreements with its Western allies, Turkey remains part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL and has opened its strategic İncirlik air base for raids in Syria and Iraq.

After attacks on May 1 in Gaziantep and Kilis, two Turkish border towns, and retaliatory fire from Turkish long range artillery, for the first time U.S. armed drones taking off from İncirlik shelled an ISIL bomb manufacturing facility near Aleppo. The coalition raid killed a total of 63 ISIL militants through howitzer and drone shelling. Still, Turkey’s performance is affected by the fact that it cannot enter Syria air space after Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet in November 2015 over airspace violations.

The key point here is that there is no other example of a country, in such a treacherous geography, fighting an anti-terror fight on three fronts, and thus spending valuable human, material and financial resources. In the meantime, it is also having to deal with around 3 million refugees who have fled the war in Syria.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara has issued a statement of support for Turkey’s “territorial integrity” (which means against the possibility of a Kurdish state) and the government’s fight against terrorism. But Ankara still expects more solidarity against the strengthening of the PKK via the PYD, which is located across Turkey’s southern border next to ISIL territory.