Some observers have noticed something rather peculiar about Turkey’s new bombing campaign against Islamic State positions.
The curious thing about the airstrikes on ISIS targets, Ankara’s critics say, is that they aren’t really occurring. Instead, Turkey is aggressively hitting PKK targets and although Turkey made it clear in its appeal for NATO support that it doesn’t discriminate between one "terrorist" group and another, commentators say the air raids have been noticeably one-sided. "Opponents [of] President Tayyip Erdogan [have] pointed out the air strikes against the PKK have so far been heavier than those against the Islamist radicals," Reuters notes.
As we’ve detailed exhaustively (here and here for instance), this is no coincidence. Rather, Erdogan has effectively engineered a renewed conflict with the PKK in order to weaken support for the pro-Kurdish HDP, an upstart political rival which won a stunning victory at the ballot box in June. With the country facing snap elections after attempts to form a coalition government unsurprisingly stalled, Erdogan is banking on voters abandoning their support for the Kurdish cause in the face of the escalating violence.
Presumably feeling the pressure from heightened media scrutiny around the politically-motivated anti-PKK air campaign, Turkey is out with an explanation for why it looks like the Turkish military is more interested in eradicating the PKK than they are fighting ISIS. Put simply, Ankara is just waiting on everyone to show up at Incirlik. Here’s Reuters with more:
NATO-member Turkey formally agreed to open its air bases to U.S. and coalition aircraft last month, a major policy change after years of reluctance in taking a frontline role against the Islamist fighters pressing on its borders.
Ankara and Washington have been working on plans to provide air cover for a group of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels and jointly sweep Islamic State from a strip of territory stretching about 80 km (50 miles) along the Turkish frontier.
"As part of our agreement with the U.S. we have made progress regarding the opening up of our bases, particularly Incirlik," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT, referring to a major air base near the southern city of Adana.
"We're seeing that manned and unmanned American planes are arriving and soon we will launch a comprehensive battle against Islamic State all together," he said during a trip to Malaysia.
Turkey is meanwhile distrustful of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which has proved a useful U.S. ally in fighting Islamic State, and which controls adjacent territory. Ankara wants the Kurdish guerrillas to advance no further than the Euphrates river, on the eastern fringe of the planned "safe zone".
Turkey launched several air strikes against Islamic State fighters in northern Syria just under two weeks ago after one of its soldiers was killed in cross-border fire. It also carried out near-simultaneous attacks on camps belonging to the PKK Kurdish militant group in northern Iraq.
Opponents have accused President Tayyip Erdogan of using the war against Islamic State as a cover for preventing Kurdish gains, pointing out the air strikes against the PKK have so far been heavier than those against the Islamist radicals.
Turkish officials deny the campaign against Islamic State is a cover, saying the offensive is a joint operation with the coalition and will only begin in earnest when Washington and its allies are ready.
"There are other countries within the coalition ... interested in joining such as Britain and France, while among the countries in the region, there is a possibility that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan will take part," Cavusoglu said.
In other words, it’s not that Turkey only cares about bombing PKK positions, it’s that when it comes to ISIS, Ankara is just waiting on the calvary which, you’ll note, may now include none other than Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar. Bloomberg has a bit more color:
The U.S. has begun deploying manned and unmanned aircraft at Incirlik Air Base, which will soon play a prominent role in the fight against Islamic State, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
Turkey will also open other bases for operations against the jihadist group, Cavusoglu told state-run TRT television during a visit to Malaysia. The U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan may also act against the militants from Turkey, he said.
"Incirlik will soon play an effective role in the fight against Daesh," Cavusoglu said, using another name for Islamic State. "We will together start a comprehensive fight against Daesh very soon."
Yes, a "comprehensive fight against Daesh," carried out by a coalition that just happens to be made up of the US, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Put another way, in the name of eradicating ISIS, the US, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and Qatar are about to invade Syria, an outcome which was of course inevitable from the start.
One country that’s not buying the cover story is Syria itself. "We said we support any effort to combat Daesh in coordination and consultation with the Syrian government, otherwise it will be a breach of Syrian sovereignty," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Wednesday. Yes, it certainly will be a "breach of Syrian sovereignty," and unless Moscow is serious about sending in the paratroopers, there won’t be much Bashar al-Assad can do about it, especially given the state of his now thoroughly depleted army.
For anyone who requires further clarification as to why this particular set of "allies" is so interested in banning together to mount a "comrehensive fight against Daesh," consider the following map. Proposed coalition partners are highlighted in red. Note that they all have one thing in common.