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Turkey: US Ally in Middle East Most Affected by Terrorism
Ajay Mohan
2016-12-04
Region : Middle East-North Africa,
Issue : Energy Security, Security, Terrorism,
“Our security forces are continuing to cleanse every place of terrorists, in the mountains, and in the cities, and will continue to do so”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 31 December 2015
The country risk rating for Turkey is high, and the threat of terrorism and civil unrest has risen since 2015. Over the past 12 months, there has been a sharp increase in the number of terrorist attacks, by different groups, including IS, Kurdish separatists (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) and PKK) and far-left militants. While the majority of terrorist attacks, the frequency and severity of terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Ankara is rising. In Istanbul, There have also been reported plots against Western diplomatic missions and public transportation in major cities.The TAK claimed responsibility for two large-scale attacks in Ankara in February and March 2016, including against a public transportation hub that killed 37 people, mostly civilians.
The Collapse of the PKK’s ceasefire in July 2015, PKK-linked attacks in the southeast have increased nine-fold. Between July and September, we recorded more attacks per month than at any point during the last height of PKK activity in 2010-2012. The majority of these have targeted the state or security forces, but several indiscriminate attacks have caused civilian casualties.
Terrorism Tracker recorded 27 attacks in 2015, compared with just three in 2014. The effects of terrorism are felt most strongly in the Middle East and Africa. Consequently, Turkey has been fighting several terrorist groups on different fronts in Syria and Iraq, such as the PKK, the PKK’s Syrian offshoot the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and Daesh. Even though Ankara remains an important NATO ally for US in Middle East. The large majority of terror strikes in the country occur between terrorist groups and Turkish security forces in the East and South East, and on the border regions with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Recently, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), mostly consisting of YPG militants, launched an operation to retake Daesh’s “capital”, Raqqa. The move was seen by Ankara as a stab in the back from a NATO ally.
The Turkish public fails to understand why the US chooses to cooperate with a terrorist group on the ground rather than its ally Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to the US, saying that the Turkish military is ready to join forces to retake Raqqa from Daesh. Washington, though, remained apathetic and sided with the YPG-dominated SDF in the Raqqa operation. It was the latest disappointment in an already strained Turkish-US relationship.
The River Euphrates has been a red line in Ankara for quite a while; the Turkish authorities have asserted repeatedly that the PKK-affiliated YPG cannot stay west of the Euphrates and have called on the US to force the YPG out of the area.
The YPG militants have recently announced that they were leaving Manbij and retreating east of the Euphrates. However, the truth rose to the surface very quickly. Yes, the YPG militants moved away from Manbij, but towards the west. The YPG-dominated SDF has been marching towards the significant northern Aleppo town of Al-Bab.

The YPG, armed by the US, has been attacking Turkey around Al-Bab. The Turkish military-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been engaging in clashes with the YPG. The race for Al-Bab tightens as the FSA and the YPG are trying to seize the town from Daesh.
Even though the US-led coalition should be backing the FSA with air strikes, coalition spokesman John Dorrian said last week that its fighter jets do not carry out air strikes to support the FSA on the ground. The current situation around Al-Bab shows clearly that America’s policy in Syria has failed miserably. The US looks on as a NATO ally is being attacked by a terrorist group using US-supplied weapons and equipment.
However, Ankara is hopeful that US President-elect Donald Trump could change the status of Turkish-US relations. The Obama administration has not abstained from supporting and arming the YPG in the face of Turkish concerns. Ankara wants to welcome the Trump administration with a different perspective.
President Erdogan stressed recently that before the election Trump and his closest advisors voiced policies close to that of Ankara on Syria and Iraq. Turkey has a plan in Syria; Erdogan has already mentioned a 5,000 square kilometre safe zone. To accomplish that, the Turkish military is expected to back the FSA until YPG-held Manbij and Afrin are taken after Al-Bab.
“Declaring a no-fly zone is very important, which the Trump campaign supported,” explained Erdogan. “A no-fly zone would be the first step towards a safe zone.” He has been speaking quite optimistically about the Trump administration after the disastrous Obama era. Even if Trump’s Washington follows a similar policy in Syria to that of Obama’s, Turkey will insist on its ambitions to push Daesh further northwards and drive the YPG out of Manbij and Afrin.
Furthermore, the YPG poses a national security threat to Turkey not only in Syria but also at home. Recently, an arrest warrant has been issued for Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader Saleh Moslem. He is accused of orchestrating a terrorist attack that took place in February in the Turkish capital Ankara. The bombing killed 29 people and wounded more than 60.
Ankara also asserts that there is no difference between militants of the PKK and the YPG. As the Turkish military conducts counterterrorism operation in the countries south-east, Ankara has another red line when it comes to tolerance of the YPG.
Open heartily Turkey offers the US broad and open cooperation on the ground if the latter stops collaborating with groups that the former considers being terrorists.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FORE INDIA

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