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Turkey: ‘Sick Man’ of NATO

Sandhya Jain is Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. The current Essay is part of her ongoing research on Balochistan province of Pakistan. The views expressed are personal.
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  • October 17, 2014

    Even as the Kurds of Kobane (Syria) continue their dogged resistance against the Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham (Daesh), the latter has overrun much of the Iraqi town of Anbar, causing 180,000 people to flee, according to the United Nations. By all accounts, the Daesh control 80 per cent of Anbar, and are even spreading into Libya. Turkey, the only regional power in a position to resist the terrorist group, has responded to the crisis by bombing its own Kurdish citizens!

    The Daesh briefly entered Kobane’s Freedom Square in the centre of the town on the Turkish border, but were beaten back with severe losses, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Meanwhile, international condemnation compelled the US-led coalition to bomb seven sites that the Daesh was using to encircle Kobane. But Ankara has refused to permit Turkish air bases to be used to make effective strikes against the Daesh, though talks are continuing.

    Turkey is adamant not to permit its Kurdish population to join the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against the Daesh in Kobane. Thus, the militants continue to receive supplies and recruits, but the Kurds are starved of both. The head of Kobane’s defense council, Esmat Al-Sheikh, told media persons that while the recent American air strikes were helpful, the Daesh was being equipped with T-57 tanks and artillery. An added complication is the sudden emergence of a new group, the Khorasan Group, whose mission is possibly to divert US attention from the Daesh.

    Expressing anger at Turkey’s attitude, German deputy speaker Claudia Roth demanded that NATO insist that Ankara end support to the Daesh. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, she charged, is purposely letting the jihadis wipe out as many Kurds as possible, is harbouring a Daesh camp in the country, and permitting the group to sell oil via Turkey. Roth said Turkey’s denials ring hollow in the face of regular reports of Islamist fighters crossing from Turkey into Syria and taking their wounded soldiers to Turkish hospitals for treatment.

    Jordan, an important ally of the United States and Israel, has repeated its allegation that Turkey provided training to Daesh mercenaries. Jordan security officers claim that 16 militants captured while trying to infiltrate Jordan from the Syrian border, for operations in the Hashemite kingdom, revealed that they were trained in Turkey.

    Even Egyptian security officials have accused Ankara of providing direct intelligence and logistical support to the Daesh, including satellite imagery and data about locations of Kurdish fighters and their weapons and munitions. Cairo claims that Turkey released nearly 700 Daesh terrorists (including two British jihadists) in exchange for the release of 49 hostages from the Turkish embassy in Mosul. The revelations by Jordan and Egypt substantiate the charges made by US Vice President Joseph Biden, though he was forced to apologise to President Erdogan for saying so. But the allegations persist and have been reiterated by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who has demanded that troops be sent to defend Kobane.

    On October 13, the Turkish military began bombing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)’s posts in Dağlıca district of Hakkari province, which were reportedly involved in armed attacks on security bases last week, after nationwide protests against Ankara’s inaction against the Daesh in Kobane. According to reports, as many as 37 people were killed and hundreds injured in the protests. Hakkari is close to the border with Iraq.

    In Iraq’s Anbar province, the Daesh last week seized the towns of Hit and Kubaisa, a military base west of Baghdad that was still in government hands, and captured a major highway from Baghdad to the Syrian border. This has heightened the danger to Anbar capital Ramadi, and to Iraq’s second-largest dam at Haditha. There are now serious apprehensions that the next target is Baghdad.

    Daesh fighters are currently battling Iraqi forces in Abu Ghraib, barely 29km from Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and government offices. The jihadis are equipped with MANPADS (shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles), and latest reports put them within eight miles of the Baghdad airport. The US joint chiefs chairman general Martin Dempsey admitted in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that America had to use Apache attack helicopters to secure the road to Baghdad airport by helping an Iraqi Army unit from being overrun. “Had they overrun the Iraqi unit it was a straight shot to the airport. So, we’re not going to allow that to happen. We need that airport,” he revealed.

    Angry at Ankara’s obduracy, Turkish anarchists Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) of Taksim Square and Gezi Park fame, have crossed the border into Kobane to support the Kurds fighting the Daesh. A spokesman for the group told Channel 4 News that the group had visited Kobane thrice and helped Kurdish refugees to escape to Turkey. This surprising development is believed to be the fallout of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan coming under the influence of New York anarchist academic Murray Bookchin, whose writings he is reading in prison. The anarchists favour resistance to police violence and state terrorism and believe in direct democracy.

    The Syrian PYD (Democratic Union Party) and its armed wing, the YPG, follow Ocalan and have tried to create a form of Kurdish direct democracy. This, in turn, has inspired the Turkish radicals who hope to learn from this experience; they are supporting the resistance to Daesh wholeheartedly.

    In the West, there is growing realisation that only boots on the ground can defeat or substantially destroy the Daesh; former US Defence Secretaries Leon Panetta and Robert Gates and former UK armed forces chief Sir David Richards have said as much. The Syrian regime is engaged in a battle for its own survival, the Iraqi Army is severely degraded by serial errors, and Turkey’s role remains ambiguous at best. Unless a ground force capable of taking back the territories seized by the Daesh arrives on the scene, the advantage will lie with the jihadis.

    NOTE: Latest reports suggest that the Daesh is being beaten back from Kobane, thanks to YPG receiving arms from France, and US representatives meeting with Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Paris, in a sudden development on October 16. German chancellor Angela Merkel has hinted at sending arms to the PKK, overriding Ankara’s objections. Preliminary reports suggest that several Western nations have privately approached the Syrian authorities to ensure that Western jihadis in the country are not allowed to return to their native countries!

    The Islamic State flag on sandy hill on the Turkish border was taken down on the morning of October 17, but Daesh still holds around 20 per cent of the city. Should Daesh truly be routed in Kobane, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s reputation as ‘caliph’ and potential empire builder will be in tatters. Kurds will emerge as the most formidable fighters of the 21st century. War and politics are zero sum games; Turkey seems set to lose all.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India

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