Murad Sezer / Reuters Syrian Kurds from Kobani wait behind the border fences to cross into Turkey, seen from the Turkish border town of Suruc, June 25, 2015. Murad Sezer

Erdogan's War

The Turkish President's Big Gamble

Last week’s showdown between the Islamic State (also called ISIS) and Turkey, which left one Turkish soldier and one militant dead, has been marked in the West as the first direct Turkish military confrontation with the terrorist organization since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

Soon after the attack, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that a subsequent military campaign, Operation Yalcin, which was named in honor of the killed soldier, would be “against all terrorist organizations.” His implication was that it would not be restricted to ISIS but could also target Turkey’s other foe, the PKK, the militant Kurdish pro-separatist organization. Although observers had expected such an escalation for some time, a number of factors played into Erdogan’s decision to go big now. It remains to be seen, though, whether his calculated risk will pay off in the form of greater security, more regional influence, and more power at home, or will backfire.

An armed man escorts others carrying the coffins of the victims of Monday's bomb attack in Suruc, during a funeral ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, July 22, 2015.

An armed man escorts others carrying the coffins of the victims of Monday's bomb attack in Suruc, during a funeral ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, July 22, 2015. 

Ankara’s sudden activism comes after months of pressure from Washington. In the span of a week, Turkey has ramped up intelligence sharing and lifted restrictions on American jets flying from Turkey’s Incirlik military base to Syria. Turkey also called an emergency NATO meeting, which resulted in a show of solidarity for Turkey’s right to defend itself against terrorism but no agreement on next steps. Turkey proposed the creation of a no-fly zone around the Syrian border. Washington turned this plan down, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama did agree to increase coordination with Turkey on U.S. air operations against ISIS and to continue to train vetted Syrian opposition fighters to support Turkey’s efforts.

Turkey’s desire to carve out safe zones in northern Syria is nothing new, but its political will to unilaterally

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