Isis slyly gains ground as the US and Turkey quibble over strategies

The dramatic warning by Turkey that the United States-led coalition will fail to stop Islamic State (Isis) fighters overrunning the strategic Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani is the latest move in a tense battle of complaint and countercomplaint between Washington and Ankara. And the only winners so far in this game of moans are the terrorists.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, has come under mounting US pressure to do more to fight Isis. Barack Obama leant on him during last month’s United Nations general assembly in New York. Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, and John Kerry, the secretary of state, have visited Ankara in recent weeks.

Washington wants Erdogan to let the US-led coalition use the Incirlik air base in Turkey, and allow the use of Turkish airspace. It wants stricter curbs on the flow of jihadists and terrorist money through Turkey to Syria and Iraq, plus the free movement of foreign forces.

But Erdogan and his prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu worry that Syria’s civil war will spill into Turkish territory. They want the utter defeat of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

They also fear increased Western support for the autonomy-seeking Syrian Kurds affiliated to the predominantly Turkish Kurdistan Workers party, a proscribed terrorist organisation. Some in Turkey believe the Kurds are fighting the Islamists supported by Damascus, from which they hope to extract concessions on autonomy.

Deal for hostages
Erdogan demanded and reportedly received an apology from Joe Biden, the US vice-president, who suggested in a speech last week that Turkey’s president now regretted his earlier alleged support for Isis as the spearhead of Sunni Muslim groups in Syria and Iraq. Last month Turkey cut a deal with Isis to free 49 hostages.

Although Turkey’s Parliament last week agreed to authorise Turkish troops to cross into Syria and Iraq, there is no imminent prospect of their doing so, even if Kobani falls – unless Turkey is directly attacked or the US changes tack dramatically.

Instead, Erdogan repeated his demand that a buffer area be set up inside Syria, rejected by the US in part because it might be exploited by Turkey to suppress Kurds.

Erdogan is often categorised as a Western ally. This is a misperception. His vision of Turkey is of an emerging great power and regional leader, independent of the US and European Union.

His threefold objective appears to be ensuring Turkey’s security, minimising territorial gains by the Kurds, and advancing the Sunni Muslim cause. He is unlikely to be deflected, notwithstanding Obama and Isis. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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