The US administration is getting increasingly frustrated over Turkey’s “inaction” against the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), particularly the country’s not stopping foreign fighters crossing into Syria via Turkish territory to fight against Kurds in the Syrian town of Kobani, according to unnamed US officials.
“There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border,” a senior US administration official said, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
“After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe. This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border,” the unnamed US official added. The daily suggested that the official preferred to speak anonymously to avoid publicly criticizing an ally.
ISIL militants have been fighting against the Kurds to seize the town of Kobani, in skirmishes visible from the Turkish town of Suruç in Şanlıurfa province. The Turkish army has sent tanks, with their turrets facing the fighting, and about 10,000 troops to the border but it seems reluctant to do anything in an attempt to avoid getting dragged into the fight.
Turkey has been a target of international criticism, accused of turning a blind eye to foreign fighters crossing into Syria from Turkish territory in order to join ISIL.
Britain’s the Guardian also reported a similar story on Wednesday, citing senior US officials criticizing Turkey for not doing much against ISIL.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has made multiple phone calls in a span of a few days with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to try to resolve the border crisis, the Guardian reported. US Department of State Spokesperson Jen Psaki on Tuesday also confirmed the phone traffic between Turkish and US officials in the past few days due to the crisis at the border.
The US is working on building a regional coalition to defeat the ISIL militants and views NATO ally Turkey as a vital part of that coalition.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu have repeatedly expressed that Turkey’s goal is to remove the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Turks see the Assad regime as the source of problems in the region and as creating an environment for the likes of ISIL. The US officials, in response to these comments, underscore that removing the Assad regime is not a goal, as the US thinks that defeating ISIL is an urgent subject to deal with.
American officials said ISIL cannot be pushed back without ground troops that are drawn from the ranks of the Syrian opposition. But until those troops are trained, equipped and put in the field, which requires time, Turkey can play a vital role, according to The New York Times.
“We have anticipated that it will be easier to protect population centers and to support offensives on the ground in Iraq, where we have partners” in the Kurdish peshmerga fighters and the Iraqi Army, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “Clearly, in Syria, it will take more time to develop the type of partners on the ground with whom we can coordinate.”
The US special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL, retired Gen. John Allen, and Ambassador Brett McGurk, deputy special presidential envoy, are scheduled to pay a visit to Turkey on Friday to convince Turkish officials to do more on the ground.
While the Turkish Parliament has given the green light for Turkey to send troops abroad and allow foreign troop deployment on Turkish soil, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has so far refused to commit forces to tackle ISIL. Ankara insists on establishing a safe zone inside Syria to curb the refugee influx and a no-fly zone, but the US is not warm to the idea.
According to The New York Times, Obama is scheduled to hold a meeting on Wednesday of the National Security Council along with Secretary of State Kerry to discuss Turkey’s reluctance so far to help in the battle against ISIL.
“The US is especially angry with Turkey because it is a NATO ally and yet it has refused to provide even basic logistical assistance to the US-led coalition, which is hitting ISIS [ISIL] positions in Syria with air strikes. On a wider scale, the US, reluctant to commit ground troops itself, wants Turkey to send in soldiers to confront ISIS [ISIL],” reported the daily.
It is also reported that Kerry has made repeated calls to the Turkish government pleading for intervention.
State Department Spokesperson Psaki said on Tuesday that Kerry spoke with Davutoğlu late Monday and Tuesday morning, saying that their conversation was about the threat of ISIL and the situation in Kobani.
“Turkey is determining what larger role they’ll play broadly as a part of the coalition moving forward, and that conversation’s ongoing,” said Psaki, adding that Turkey has indicated its openness to doing that.
Asked about how the US sees the Kurdish protesters across Turkey protesting Turkey’s inaction to what is happening in Kobani, Psaki highlighted that the US value freedom of expression and freedom of speech. “We encourage people to do that peacefully, and certainly encourage authorities to respect protests when they’re done peacefully as well,” Psaki said.