Why is Turkey not hitting ISIL?
The bomb in Suruç exploded on July 20. Turkey opened İncirlik airbase to the United States with a telephone conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on July 22.
Following a series of unilateral small scale aerial attacks against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria, the results of which we are not sure about, it took more than a month to have the necessary protocol with the U.S. to join the whole-scale coalition attacks against ISIL. The signatures came on Aug. 24. The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement five days later on Aug. 28, declaring that Turkish planes had joined the attacks against ISIL targets in Syria.
I realized the first oddity reading the news that came after this statement. Turkish newspapers were full of stories on how Turkish planes had inflicted damage on ISIL and how seven ISIL targets were hit north of Aleppo. But in the coalition attacks reports coming from CENTCOM, only one aerial attack was seen to be have taken place in that region. In the report dated Aug. 28, apart from Kurdish regions, there was only one aerial attack north of Aleppo. The same for the Aug. 29 report.
On Aug. 30, I forwarded a written question to CENTCOM: “Does that list include the aerial attacks that Turkish planes conduct in the framework of the coalition?” Nikolaj Thide, the spokesperson of CENTCOM, answered me in written form and said, “Yes, it includes [such attacks].”
Then I tried to clarify this: Did Turkey really conduct those aerial bombings but was not included in CENTCOM reports because they were unsuccessful? I asked this question many times. But as the issue is about relations with an ally country, the Pentagon did not clarify this.
And that’s where I was stuck.
And then, as you know, came a long period of silence on ISIL. And we left ISIL aside after the news that came at the end of August and started to read about Turkey’s aerial bombings against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Exactly one and a half months later came the Oct. 14 statement of Josh Earnest, the spokesperson of the White House that clarified all the developments:
“We’ve also seen, just in the last 24 hours or so, Turkey step up their activity inside of Syria. And we had reports overnight that the Turks, for the first time, successfully struck a mobile ISIL target inside of Syria.”
Turks objected. “We did not hit it, the U.S. hit it,” they said. And with this effort to create a contradiction they tried to conceal the most crucial detail in Earnest’s statement. Why? Because this came to the surface with Earnest’s statement, behind which the U.S. administration still stands. The attack in Suruç took place. Turks joined the coalition against ISIL. They said “We hit it.” Yet, it was revealed they hit no target within the framework of the coalition. And while Turkey was not targeting ISIL, and focusing on other things, names related to ISIL conducted the biggest bombing attack in the history of the Turkish republic.
That’s why the answer to the question of why Turkey hit ISIL targets for the first time on Oct. 14 within the framework of the attacks by the coalition it joined on Aug. 28 is important to this issue. I talked to two different sources at the Pentagon. The first official said, “In the beginning they joined the operation, but then for a long time they did not [participate in it].” In other words, during the month of September, while Turkey earmarked its resources to the fight with the PKK, it did not even try to hit ISIL. But the first initial trials became unsuccessful. The second official pointed to the political dimension of the issue and said, “The priority for Turks is the PKK.”
In other words, Turkey on the one hand used in a wrong way its resources by not focusing on ISIL and on the other was unsuccessful in hitting ISIL targets.
This has happened before. You have seen how Ankara provided wrong information about the train-and-equip program and how that program failed later. But this is something else. We are facing an administration that cannot protect its citizens and cannot prevent the murder of innocent people. The Turkish government needs to explain to the Turkish public and to the world why it did not hit ISIL.