Turkey joined the international coalition against ISIS, but has failed to receive due praise from its allies, including the United States
On Monday, Sabah newspaper reported that Turkey, which treats any military approach from the Syrian regime as a threat, changed its rules of engagement to identify the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as a high-priority national security threat. In other words, the government authorized the Turkish Armed Forces to open fire if ISIS militants approach the border and reciprocate attacks from the terrorist organization. The latest update to the rules of engagement allows Turkish troops to take the above-mentioned measures without additional orders.
On the same day, Daily Sabah's front page featured a story about Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime joining forces with ISIS to fight the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). Senior military officials representing the regime and ISIS reportedly met in al-Hasakah secretly and resolved to cooperate against FSA forces, which has made significant advances in Idlib, Aleppo and Daraa. An important claim, attributed to a source in the intelligence community, was that the Assad regime continued to purchase large amounts of oil from ISIS, which indeed showed that Turkey believed ISIS to be as dangerous as the Assad regime.
Now let us take a look at the facts:In October 2013, Turkey became one of the first countries around the world to recognize ISIS as a terrorist organization. When the group launched an offensive against Kobani, a small town near the Turkish border, several hundred People's Protection Units (YPG) forces received treatment at Turkish hospitals. Meanwhile, approximately 197,000 civilians sought refuge in Turkey to escape the clashes, which made it possible for the international coalition to launch airstrikes against ISIS targets hiding in residential areas. When YPG forces and coalition airstrikes failed to break the siege, the government permitted peshmerga forces from northern Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to transit through Turkey to fight ISIS terrorists in Syria.
As part of the humanitarian relief effort, the Turkish government distributed 60,000 hot meals and 700 tons of drinking water per day to displaced Syrian Kurds. More than 35,000 civilians recovered from their wounds at nearby hospitals, as the country's largest refugee camp was erected in the border town of Suruç. Over the past five months, 1,920 truckloads of humanitarian aid, including food, drinking water, clothing, medicine and personal hygiene kits, were delivered to the people of Kobani.
Over the past year, Turkey also took important steps to fight ISIS terrorists in Iraq. The country not only trained nearly 2,000 peshmerga soldiers, but also delivered 100 truckloads of military equipment and ammunition to KRG authorities. As a matter of fact, Turkey has provided training to more peshmerga fighters than any other country in the world. In addition to strengthening the KRG forces, the Turkish government instructed the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) to construct refugee camps in the Duhok Governorate where 34,500 civilians currently reside and deliver 1,000 truckloads of humanitarian aid to communities affected by the conflict.
Having made a positive impact on the ground and joined the international coalition against ISIS, Turkey has failed to receive due praise from its allies, including the United States, as well as international media outlets. Although the country has significantly tightened its border security, the failure of its allies to share intelligence about ISIS sympathizers among their citizens has created serious problems. Yet Turkey's allies prefer to point fingers rather than make a difference, even though the only realistic way to fight ISIS is to cooperate more closely with Turkey, the only Muslim country in the world with functioning democratic institutions, which happens to be a neighbor of both Iraq and Syria.
About the author
Hilal Kaplan is a journalist and columnist. Kaplan is also board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey.