Anti-IS Coalition Grows, But Turkey Takes Back Seat

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    WASHINGTON — US officials have shored up support from more than a dozen countries to confront Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. But despite a top-level diplomatic push, Turkey is less likely to play an active role.

    WASHINGTON — US officials have shored up support from more than a dozen countries to confront Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. But despite a top-level diplomatic push, Turkey is less likely to play an active role.

    Turkey, which borders Iraq and Syria, said late last week that it would not support strikes against Islamic State militants and it would not allow a US-led coalition to launch strikes from its bases, a government official told Agence France-Presse.

    The Pentagon is looking for coalition members to conduct intelligence, aerial refueling, airlift and training, a senior US defense official said last week. The US has been conducting airstrikes in Iraq since August and is preparing to expand those strikes to Syria.

    “By geography, Turkey is going to be absolutely indispensable to the ongoing fight against [Islamic State],” the senior US official said on Sept. 8, shortly before US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel landed in Ankara for meetings with top government officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and Gen. Necdet Özel, chief of defense.

    The US military has facilities at Incirlik Air Base. Incirlik could be used for logistical and humanitarian operations, the Turkish government official told AFP.

    Turkey is in an arduous position since Islamic State militants overthrew its consulate in Iraq and still holds 49 citizens hostage. The country also has an estimated 800,000 Syrian refugees within its porous borders.

    In addition to Turkey, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Sept. 11 that Germany would not conduct airstrikes; UK participation also was unclear.

    At the NATO summit in Newport, Wales, on Sept. 5, Hagel and US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted nine countries — France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Denmark and the UK — described as the core coalition that will confront Islamic State militants.

    Nearly a week later on Sept. 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — along with Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, “agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight against [the Islamic State],” according to a joint communiqué issued after the meeting with Kerry.

    US officials played down the significance of Hagel’s visit to Turkey, saying it was a “continuation of the discussion” that US President Barack Obama had with Erdogan the prior week at the NATO summit.

    “We’re not going into this meeting with specific asks of the Turks,” the senior defense official said. “Many of the issues we will be discussing are things we have been discussing with them for a while, in terms of what we could be doing together to support the moderate Syrian opposition, what we could be doing together to get a better sense of what’s going on inside Syria, also in terms of Iraq and the [Islamic State] problems there.”

    Hagel said the purpose of his visit was to coordinate with Turkish leaders and work through “some of these challenges, as we go forward and think through how we are going to deal with” the Islamic State.

    “I thought today’s meetings were a reaffirmation clearly of Turkey’s commitment to be part of this effort to destroy [the Islamic State] and everything that [it] represents and the threats that it presents to this region of the world, as well as all countries,” he told reporters after his meetings.

    Hagel called his conversations with Turkish leaders “very productive,” stressing “I didn’t come here ... to ask for specific missions that they would take on.”

    Hagel’s visit to Turkey was the first by a US defense secretary since Leon Panetta came in December 2011. More US officials are expected to travel to Turkey in the coming weeks.

    Anti-IS Coalition Grows, But Turkey Takes Back Seat - NewsMilitary.com
     
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