Why is Turkey scaling up efforts against ISIS now?
Turkey renewed its widespread efforts against terrorists following the latest massacre committed by an ISIS suicide bomber killing 32 people
In recent days, Turkey has witnessed a marked intensification of tensions along its 911 km (566 miles) long border with Syria. The tense security conditions underscored once again public fears about the spillover of the Syrian civil war into Turkish territories, and pushed the authorities to make a heavy response against terrorist targets.
Turkey has renewed its widespread efforts against terrorists following the latest massacre committed by an ISIS suicide bomber in the southeastern town of Suruc, killing 32 people and wounding 100 others.
Moreover, on Thursday 23, one Turkish soldier was killed and two others were wounded by shots fired from an area in Syria near the Turkish border town of Kilis which is held by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In a press statement, the Turkish military announced that they instantly retaliated by destroying ISIS bases across Syrian territory, killing one ISIS militant and destroying 3 vehicles belonging to ISIS in these revised rules of engagement.
On the very same day, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, discussed in a phone call possible ways of boosting their bilateral cooperation against ISIS, including ensuring Turkey’s border security.
In the following days, Turkey carried out several rounds of airstrikes with F-16 warplanes for the first time against ISIS targets, reportedly killing at least 35 militants. Article 51 of the U.N. Charter provided a justification for Turkey to conduct air strikes citing the right to self-defense against an armed attack.
However, the same F-16s also hit on Friday night various training camps and logistic points operated by the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, which especially enraged Turkey’s Kurdish minority and is seen as a major blow to the Kurdish peace process in the country.
Kurdish news agencies ANF, DIHA, BasNews, Ozgür Gundem and Rûdaw are also closed in Turkey.
In line with the military measures, Turkey has begun reinforcing border security by deploying additional armored vehicles to patrol the frontier. In line with joint planning of Defense and Interior Ministries, it will start by identifying some critical points of terrorist flow at the border with Syria, and physical blocks will be built to stop illegal crossings.
According to reports, the border security will be further beefed up by stationing wire fences, security lights, unmanned vehicles, aerial mobile armored vehicles, surveillance balloons, and cameras along the border.
For the execution of the plan, the Interior Ministry has allegedly allocated about TL 2 billion sum, especially focused on the border provinces of Gaziantep, Kilis, Sanliurfa and Hatay.
After having agreed in principle during talks on early July, Ankara and the United States have also reportedly finalized the deal for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS to station aircraft at the NATO military base of Incirlik in Turkey, although both parties remain cautious about acknowledging the deal publicly. Reports say that the deal awaits the approval of Turkey’s cabinet of ministers.
So far, only President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on July 24 that Incirlik base would be used against ISIS within a certain framework.
Currently six U.S. Predator drones are stationed at the Incirlik Air Base, while two of them are expected to be equipped with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. In the past, Turkey only allowed unmanned strikes from this base.
Metin Gurcan, a security policy researcher at Ankara's Bilkent University and a former special-forces officer, said there is a significant authority imbroglio especially at the border with Syrian town of Kobani, which prevents authorities to take solid steps to fill the security void.
“About 28 different bodies under state bureaucracy are held responsible for the border security, and most of them pass culpability on to the others because of the confusion about jurisprucence among these institutions,” Gurcan told Al Arabiya News, underlying the need to implement a specific border security plan along with an integrated border management system.
The issue of countrywide sleeper cells of ISIS is crucial for the anti-ISIS fight, as on early July 24, Turkish anti-terror police raided suspected ISIS and PKK locations in 22 cities, and detained 320 people in operations supported by thousands of police officers.
The operations will continue, President Erdogan told reporters on July 25, while at the very same day Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gave a press speech saying that those who make Turkey pay a price will be made to pay tenfold.
According to Gurcan, along with border security measures, Turkey should implement an exhaustive grassroots program that will focus on districts where militants can be located and use social tools to cleanse the local roots of radicalization.
“ISIS is highly integrated into Turkey’s social structures. It has district-based networks and it uses violence against local people who do not obey them and their religious discourse, which discourages people to help Turkish security forces in retrieving ISIS’ sleeper cells,” he said.
The suicide bomber in recent Suruc blast, an ethnic Kurd from Turkey’s southeastern province of Adiyaman, was brainwashed by militants at a local teahouse, called “Islam”, which was used as a meeting place and prayer room for radical Islamists until eight months ago when it was closed for lacking a trading license.
However, for Gurcan, the opening of Incirlik airbase to hit the militant targets should not have been so much publicized and ought to have been carried out behind doors to avoid further provoking ISIS against Turkey.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major now serving as a security analyst at Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV, said the confrontation between two sub-state groups, Syrian Kurdish YPG forces and ISIS, has been moved in Turkish territories since the Suruc attack.
“However, with the increased engagement of Turkey with the anti-ISIS coalition forces, I don't believe that ISIS will remain silent. There will be an increased risk that it will retaliate with attacks inside Turkey and justify them through so-called religious references,” Ozcan told Al Arabiya News.
“The opening of Incirlik airbase, adjacent to the Syrian border, will provide coalition forces with immediate capability to hit ISIS targets with more geopolitical intelligence, decrease their costs of logistics. It will be a strategic gain for the coalition, but a serious loss for ISIS,” he underlined.
On July 26, pro-peace groups will organize the “Great Istanbul March” starting from the Taksim neighborhood in protest of ISIS terror and to call for peace.