Turkey won’t declare war against ISIL

Turkey won’t declare war against ISIL

Intense, week-long diplomatic traffic began last week during the NATO Summit, as Washington announced the formation of a 10-country “core group” to coordinate efforts to wipe out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants from Iraq and Syria. Led by the United States, the group included Turkey and prominent NATO countries as well as Australia. 

A few days after the NATO Summit, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel paid a visit to Ankara to meet top Turkish officials. He instructed his assistant secretary Derek Chollet to stay one more day to deepen the issues he discussed with Turkish officials. Hagel’s meeting with top Turkish officials was aimed at better understanding Turkish positions vis a vis developments in Iraq and Syria, and to take the pulse about to what extent it could play a role in this fight against ISIL. One of the most important messages delivered by Hagel was that this fight would not be a short term one and that all countries, especially those in the region, should be well-prepared for a long-term struggle. 

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama outlined Washington’s strategy against ISIL in a four-stage plan. He instructed the Pentagon to conduct airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria, meaning a first for the U.S. since the Syrian unrest begun in March 2011 and claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. 
Obama’s message to Islamic countries came through an interview on Tuesday. He urged that the threat regional countries are facing was more dangerous than the threat to the U.S. and therefore called on them to be part of international efforts. 

It was with this objective that Saudi Arabia initiated a meeting on Sept. 11 in Jeddah with the participation of Gulf Cooperation Council countries as well as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. The meeting produced a joint communiqué underlining the readiness of these countries to join the U.S.-led military campaign against ISIL. Except for Turkey. The reason why Turkey is hesitant lies in the very substance of the communiqué. 

Here is an excerpt from the communiqué:

“The participating states agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight against ISIL, including: stopping the flow of foreign fighters through neighboring countries, countering financing of ISIL and other violent extremists, repudiating their hateful ideology, ending impunity and bringing perpetrators to justice, contributing to humanitarian relief efforts, assisting with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of communities brutalized by ISIL, supporting states that face the most acute ISIL threat, and, as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign against ISIL.”

For many Turkish officials, this paragraph stands as a sort of declaration of war against ISIL and is a clear commitment to engage in military action against the militants. “We have made it clear to our interlocutors that we’ll not commit ourselves to a military campaign against the ISIL militants. The Americans know perfectly well what we can and cannot do. Among the things we cannot do is engage in a war with ISIL given the circumstances,” Turkish officials said. 

They underlined that this position was well understood by the Americans and that the visit paid by Secretary of State John Kerry aimed to explore ways for potential cooperation and to coordinate in detail the Turkish contribution to the process. 

Turkey will surely increase border security in the face of growing foreign fighters, will increase intelligence sharing with partner countries, and will not hesitate to do more in terms of humanitarian assistance. It will also open its military bases and facilities for non-lethal logistical transportation and will surely be active in providing necessary political support. 

One other thing is that Turkey and the U.S. will continue their joint effort to eliminate all sorts of terrorism in the region, as in the past, and the moves against ISIL will be no an exception. However, Turkey’s involvement will be less visible and less mentionable. Ankara’s main concern is its 49 citizens who have been held as hostages by ISIL since June 11 and it wants all of its partners to understand and respect this concern.