Our Ally Turkey Joins Fight Against ISIL, Killing Our Allies Against ISIL Rather Than ISIL

Turkey has finally joined in the US-led coalition against ISIL. Unfortunately, it's killing the main ground force fighting ISIL.

Turkey has finally joined in the US-led coalition against ISIL. Unfortunately, it’s killing the main ground force fighting ISIL.

LAT (“Turkey steps up bombing — but on Kurds, not Islamic State”):

Last week, Ankara announced with great fanfare that it was joining the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State, the Al Qaeda breakaway group that has seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq, two of Turkey’s neighbors. Previously, Turkey had been hesitant to join the coalition, despite the nation’s front-line status in the conflict.

But Turkey has focused its firepower since then not on the Islamic extremists but on its longtime adversary — the secular PKK, whose allied forces have been at the vanguard of the fight against the Islamic State.

Turkish officials blame PKK “terrorists” for breaking an informal cease-fire with recent attacks on Turkish police officers and other targets.

But Turkish activists and opposition politicians have accused the government of using its announced crackdown on the Islamic State as a pretext to bomb PKK targets and round up Kurdish activists, threatening a two-year peace process.

This is, I trust, not what we had in mind.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tillman says:

    My hope is this is the moment historians identify as “when we got out.” Between bombing them with no spotters on the ground and our mealymouthed attempt at cooperation with Iran, we are not so much waging a war as trying to herd kindergarten toughs against one mean second grader. Should we be all that surprised when a bully uses the mandate of playground war to punch the kid he’s always wanted to?

  2. JohnMcC says:

    The Daesh bombing in Suruc that seems to have precipitated the Turkish gov’t belligerent talk about joining the US’s campaign against Daesh was directed against the PKK. I was surprised that Erdogan didn’t send a big thank-you! to Raqqa. And as I suppose Dr Joyner has done, I’ve been watching the supposedly now-highly-motivated Turkish mount further attacks on the PKK in Syria. Obviously, Turkey considers the Kurdish independence movement a bigger threat than Daesh.

    What an infinitely screwed up mess! We suppose we have allies but don’t seem to know whom those allies consider their primary adversaries.

    As Mr Tillman says above, we should leave the nations in that region to their own boiling stew until at least we understand enough to know simple things like that.

  3. michael reynolds says:


    Very apt analogy.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Priorities, James. The Turks’ war against the Kurds is an existential one for the Turkish state as it exists now. DAESH? Not so much.

  5. Gustopher says:

    The Kurds have been our only consistent allies in the region — way better than the Israelis or the Saudis. Maybe, just maybe, we should take this up with the Turks. Even a meaningless diplomatic protest. Just something.

    It would be nice to reward our most consistent allies with something. Even a small symbolic gesture.

  6. Lounsbury says:

    Not quite.

    Erdogan’s enthusiasm for going after the Kurds is not what he’s always wanted. Quite the contrary. His party has been rather “soft” on the Kurds.

    However, as his grand neo-Ottoman scheme has fallen apart with last elections, his backup support for power is the rather Turk-Supramacist nationalist wing.

    He and his party are shoring up allies.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I note that the last time the Turks gave us something – allowing weapons into Kobani – they also bombed Kurds. They’re giving us something much bigger this time – Incirlik, restricting jihadi travel. There may be an element of theater here.

    On the map what it looks like is that the Turks see the Kurds dominating the Turkish-Syrian border and this is a space between two Kurdish-controlled areas. The Turks either take this swathe of land or the Kurds do.

    It gets justified by the idea of using the space for refugees, which in itself is not a bad idea, if you set aside the likely outcome which will be vast refugee camps full of furious, radicalized people dominated by jihadist groups on Turkey’s border. 1980’s Lebanon, anyone? Will Turkey soon have their very own Hezbollah to deal with?

  8. Tillman says:

    @Lounsbury: he might not have wanted it, but he certainly counted on the Kurds being a reliable punching bag.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    @JohnMcC: Yeah, our Turkish Islamist “allies” are bombing the pro-feminist, pro-gay rights and pro-socialist Kurds that have been systematically kicking the ass of ISIS throughout the region.

    It ought also be remarked upon that supposed fearless, unbeatable IS fighters are getting slapped around by armed teenage girls. The rep these guys have is total bullshit. Eagle scouts could rout these guys.

  10. dazedandconfused says:

    The bases in Turkey are simply too useful to pass up. I strongly suspect our actual policy to be containment. Public announcement of that would cause significant complications so it’s no shock we haven’t, and I suppose some slim chance that events will allow a transition to our stated policy still exists.

    I wonder, though, if “brutal” frankness might be a better way to go.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:


  12. Lounsbury says:

    No, he counted on them being the reliable focus of the nationalist semi-Kemalist right. Rather different.

    @Ben Wolf: Such wonderful odes to the Kurds. Pity Kurdish social reality has pretty much f*ck-all to do with the theoretical positions of their separatist party. Lapping up agitprop is really a quite shameful exercise, only made more shameful by naively regurgitating.