This weekend, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced that Turkey agreed to participate in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS). According to the projected plan, which is yet to be finalized, Incirlik Air Base on the Mediterranean Sea will be used both to launch strikes against IS and as a training facility for Syrian opposition fighters.
The plan, however, has not yet been confirmed by Turkey and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has announced that no deal had been reached to allow the United States to use Turkish military bases.
Turkey’s purported decision to join the coalition comes after the Turkish parliament approved a bill on October 2, 2014 to use cross-border military action against any terrorist threat in Syria and Iraq.
Previously, the country, which shares a porous 500 mile (approximately 900km) border with Syria, had been steadfastly resisting participation in coalition strikes in Syria and Iraq.
This is an interesting development since Ankara has viewed IS, Bashar al-Assad, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian Kurdish affiliate of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), through the same terrorism lens. Providing support to coalition strikes against IS, which do not also target the Assad regime or the PYD, does not align with Turkey’s policy in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan has likened IS to the outlawed PKK, which operates in Turkey’s southeastern region and is supportive of the Syrian PYD. He has stated that “it is wrong to consider them in different ways,” adding that “we need to handle them all together on a common ground.”
Similarly, in an interview published on October 12, 2014, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said U.S.-led strikes against IS have diverted attention away from al-Assad. He went on to say that had Western countries “two years ago arrived at the point they arrived at today and the moderate opposition had been supported … ISIL (another acronym for the Islamic State) would not have had a space to use and the [Assad regime] would not have had the power to commit massacres.”
So far, the United States has not addressed Turkish concerns and has resisted Turkey’s calls for the establishment of a buffer zone in northeastern Syria to host the Syrian Kurdish refugees fleeing the Syrian city of Kobani in the face of IS advances.
It remains to be seen whether Turkey’s alleged decision to allow its territory to be used for operations against IS is a major shift in policy toward Syria or whether it is a tactical move to advance its own agenda against the Assad regime, the PYD, and ultimately the PKK.