After the release of nearly fifty Turkish hostages earlier this week, Ankara appears poised to openly participate in international efforts to confront ISIS. Turkish policy toward ISIS had been in a state of paralysis since the hostages were taken in Mosul in early June. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu delivered news of their release in the early morning hours of September 20 in Baku, before flying to the Turkish-Syrian border to greet those who were released. Their safe return has heralded calls for Turkey to increase its role in the American-led coalition, which aims to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the group.
In early June, ISIS staged large-scale attacks across swaths of land in northern Iraq, resulting in the fall of Mosul on June 10. Subsequently, the group held forty-nine Turkish citizens captive for 101 days, including employees at Ankara’s consulate in Mosul and their family members.
There was no initial statement about how the Turkish government managed the operation to secure the hostages’ release, but assurances were provided that no monetary exchange was made. Speaking at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) this past week in New York City, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “When we say the word “operation,” people only think of airstrikes, bombs, aircraft, weaponry. But an operation isn’t only that. Operations are political sometimes, or diplomatic, or civilian. And they involve discussions, contacts.” In addition to Turkish media reports, Erdogan’s remarks “reinforced suppositions of an exchange of hostages.”
Last month, at the behest of Baghdad, the United States began conducting air strikes on ISIS positions concentrated in the country’s north. On September 23, President Obama expanded the U.S-led campaign of air strikes to include ISIS targets in Syrian territory, including crucial oil infrastructure under the group’s control.
In early September, Turkey attended talks on confronting ISIS with the United States and various Arab states, but did not pledge military support. “We said that we would only provide humanitarian support to such a coalition at the time when we had forty nine hostages,” Erdogan said at CFR. “I said that we could talk about many issues after we secured a release of the forty nine hostages. And the Turkish and American officials are talking to each other as we speak, and those discussions will continue.”