Istanbul terror attack: Turkey takes gloves off against ISIS

Turkey says it killed 200 ISIS militants, including regional leaders, in 48 hours

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Turkey has ramped up its efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after the group attacked the tourist district in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday said Turkey killed 200 ISIS militants, including regional leaders, in 48 hours along the border with Syria and in northern Iraq. He underlined Ankara’s determination to fight ISIS until it leaves border areas.

The latest Turkish strikes complement massive French airstrikes over Mosul in the last week, which hit a key ISIS communication center.

“We may be on the brink of an escalation in the ISIS threat against Turkey,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund, told Al Arabiya News.

Unluhisarcikli said this would not necessarily lead to a de-escalation of the conflict between Turkey and the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Rather, Turkey would be waging war against two terrorist organizations that are at war with each other,” he said.

Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Al Arabiya News: “It’s no secret that ISIS has entrenched itself inside Turkey over the last two years, establishing vast networks for recruitment, financing, smuggling, and - as it’s clear now - attacks against Turkey. Perpetrators of the previous two ISIS-linked suicide bombings were radicalized Turkish citizens.”

Tahiroglu added that “the biggest security threat to Turkey from ISIS comes less from across its Syrian border and more from within its own territory.”

Haldun Yalcinkaya, a former lieutenant colonel at the Turkish Military Academy, and current head of the international relations department at Ankara’s TOBB Economics and Technology University, told Al Arabiya News that Turkey’s recent actions in Syria and Iraq “indicate that the degree of its reaction has increased. This is a very clear message to ISIS.”

Turkish vulnerability

Yalcinkaya said the threat perception and vulnerabilities of Turkey are higher than any other anti-ISIS coalition member, because of the long border it shares with Syria and the high number of refugees it hosts, currently exceeding 2 million.

Following ISIS bombings against Turkish border troops in July 2015 in the southeastern town of Kilis, Ankara for the first time carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

Serhat Guvenc, a security analyst at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said Turkey’s latest military moves were aimed at improving its image and alleviating concerns that it had not done enough against ISIS.

“However, security concerns - especially after deteriorating relations with Russia - narrow Ankara’s military capabilities,” Guvenc told Al Arabiya News.

“It can’t freely conduct airstrikes against ISIS due to concerns that Russia might shoot down its jets.”

Turkey has so far deported 2,896 ISIS suspects from 92 countries, while 35,700 suspects from 124 countries have been denied entry.

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