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U.S. official: we need Turkey to defeat ISIS

Whereas the U.S. is focused on fighting ISIS militants, Turkey’s main priority is curtailing growing Kurdish power

Published: Updated:

A U.S. official said this week that the coalition striking Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants “can’t succeed” without Turkey, the Istanbul-based daily Hurriyet reported.

Brett McGurk, who is a deputy special envoy to the U.S.-led coalition bombing ISIS militants, said that Turkey’s support in the coalition was “critical” due to its military support, proximity to Syria and Iraq, and role in aiding refugees fleeing ISIS-held territory.The U.S. official warned that “strategic patience” would be required in the campaign.

“The fighting on the ground is being done by partners on the ground. It’s not being done by U.S. soldiers. It’s not being done by Turkish soldiers,” McGurk, who this week was in the Turkish capital Ankara to finalize a deal where the U.S. can use a Turkish airbase for raids against ISIS, told Hurriyet.

Long a reluctant partner in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, NATO member Turkey last month made a dramatic shift in policy, sending warplanes to attack the Islamist hardline group in northern Syria. Earlier this week, it opened its Incirlik air base for use in coalition air strikes.

Turkish right

But since beginning its campaign against ISIS, Turkey has since turned its attention to bombing Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants over in Iraq, a change that has reportedly frustrated some Washington officials.

Whereas the U.S. is focused on fighting ISIS militants and has partnered with Syrian Kurds to that end, Turkey’s main priority is curtailing growing Kurdish power along its southern border with Syria.

But McGurk said that Turkey “has the right” to defend itself from Kurdish militant attacks.

“The PKK was not a part or an issue that was part of the agreement against Daesh,” said McGurk, using an alternative name for ISIS. “However, the PKK is a very serious threat to our Turkish partners and therefore, when the PKK launches attacks inside Turkey, Turkey has the right to respond.”

Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey does not expect to deploy ground forces in Syria to fight ISIS option should remain on the table.

“Right now, no ground operation is envisaged, but in the future whatever is needed to fight ISIS - including ground operations - should be done. This is my personal opinion,” Cavusoglu told HaberTurk TV in an interview.

The U.S.-led coalition has launched over 6,000 bombing missions against ISIS militants since strikes began in August last year.

(With AP and Reuters)