Photographer: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Turkey Stalls Offensive on Islamic State by Opposing Kurds

Updated on
  • Arab force can attack IS from Turkish soil, minister says
  • Campaign would be directed against IS positions near Turkey

A proposed rebel assault to retake two Islamic State strongholds in northwestern Syria is bumping up against Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish participation in the campaign.

The U.S. and Turkey both advocate such an offensive to clear the jihadist group from a 98-kilometer (62-mile) area along the Turkish border, including its bastions in the towns of Jarablus and Manbij, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

While the U.S., in conjunction with Turkey and other nations, has been bombing Islamic State from the air, Syrian Kurdish fighters have been its chief partner on the ground. But Turkey regards the Syrian Kurdish fighters as closely affiliated with the outlawed Turkish Kurdish PKK group that’s been waging a separatist war for more than three decades. Only if they pull out of the rebel assault force can it launch an attack on Jarablus from Turkish soil, according to Cavusoglu.

Then, Arab fighters “can even go southward from our borders with the support of special forces from Turkey, U.S. as well as France, Britain and Germany,” Cavusoglu told reporters on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in the Turkish resort city of Antalya on Saturday. “The U.S. should cease cooperating with and supporting a terrorist group.”

Turkey, which hosts more than 2.7 million refugees from Syria’s war, has long advocated the establishment of a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border to help contain the human flight and stop deadly rocket attacks by Islamic State on Turkish towns. Clearing Islamic State from border areas west of the Euphrates river could seal the Turkish frontier and allow allied forces to speed up planning of a major offensive on Raqqa, the capital of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, Cavusoglu said.

However, the battlefield successes of the Syrian Kurdish PYD group in the course of their country’s civil war has haunted Turkey, which fears their territorial gains will embolden the separatist aspirations of Turkey’s own Kurdish minority.

“The aim of those who are using the PYD terrorist organization to surround Turkey’s southern borders is clearly to cut Turkey’s ties with the Middle East and North Africa,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday at a ceremony marking the 1453 conquest of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. “Turkey will continue its preparations to foil these ploys.”

As the two governments tussle over the makeup of the assault force, the deployment of U.S. mobile multiple rocket launchers on Turkey’s southern frontier to battle Islamic State has been held up until August, Cavusoglu said, without offering an explanation. The deployment was originally expected in May to help counter cross-border bombardments that have killed 21 people since Jan. 18.