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Turkey pushes forward with IS airstrikes

July 25, 2015

Following long reluctance to military action against the "Islamic State," Turkey is pushing on with airstrikes in northern Iraq. But the surprise military action is causing Ankara problems at home.

Kampfjets F-16 landen auf türkischer Airbase
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Ozbilici

Turkish fighter jets and ground forces hit "Islamic State" (IS) militants in Syria, along with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) camps in Iraq, on Saturday in a campaign Ankara said would help create a "safe zone" across swathes of northern Syria.

The strikes followed Turkey's first-ever air attacks on IS in Syria a day earlier, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference that the heightened security operations would continue.

"These operations are not 'one-point operations' and will continue as long as there is a threat against Turkey," he said.

Surprise move

Turkey has dramatically cranked up its role in the US-led coalition against IS, which has seized much of Syria, since a suspected IS suicide bomber killed 32 people this week in a town close to the Syrian border.

It has also pledged to target Kurdish militants, raising concern about the future of the shaky Kurdish peace process. Critics, including opposition politicians, accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of trying to use the campaign against IS as an excuse to crack down on Kurds.

Karte Türkei Syrien Suruc Kobane Englisch

Turkey was long a reluctant member of the coalition against IS, a stance that annoyed NATO ally Washington, and this weekend's move into the frontline appears to be a response to the suicide bombing in the border town of Suruc.

Many of those killed in the Suruc attack were Kurds, and the attack sparked violence in the largely Kurdish southeast by militants who say Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party have covertly supported IS against Syrian Kurds.

Ankara denies the accusation.

On Friday, as its planes bombed IS in Syria for the first time, police rounded up hundreds of suspected Islamist and Kurdish militants in cities and towns across Turkey. Nearly 600 people have been detained as of Saturday evening.

"It is unacceptable that Erdogan and the AKP government have made a fight against the Kurdish people part of their struggle against IS," the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said in a statement.

Safe zones

It is not known whether the deal struck with Washington this week allowing coalition forces to use Turkish bases for bombing raids against IS will entail the creation of a "safe zone" in northern Syria, something Turkey has long sought.

Türkei Suruc Bombenanschlag
At least 30 people were killed in the Suruc attack on MondayImage: picture-alliance/AA/E. Ozdemir

But Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference that "safe zones will be formed naturally" as swathes of northern Syria are cleared of IS militants.

"We have always defended safe zones and no-fly zones in Syria. People who have been displaced can be placed in those safe zones," he said.

Washington says direct military pressure on IS, not a safe or no-fly zone, is the best way to end the region's fighting and refugee crisis.

The deal to use Turkish airbases will greatly shorten distances to targets and potentially make the aerial campaign that US President Barack Obama says is intended to "degrade and destroy" IS capabilities more effective.

Saturday's airstrikes hit IS positions in Syria and PKK locations in northern Iraq, including warehouses and living quarters, Davutoglu's office said in a statement.

Simultaneously, Turkish land forces fired on IS and the PKK, it said.

The attacks on the outlawed PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency against Turkey, could kill off stumbling peace talks between the group and Ankara, which began in 2012 but have stalled lately.

"The truce has no meaning any more after these intense airstrikes by the occupant Turkish army," the PKK said in a statement. One militant was killed and three wounded, it said.

PKK Kämpfer
The PKK is outraged over the airstrikesImage: Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose

Erdogan took a hefty political risk in starting peace talks in 2012 with the Kurds, who represent nearly 20 percent of Turkey's population. They now accuse him of backtracking on promises.


The military actions sparked protests in Turkey, where police in the capital Ankara fired tear gas and water cannons to break up a demonstration of around 1,000 people. A protest also took place in France, attracting around 1,500 people who marched in support of the Kurds.

Istanbul authorities said they would not let organizers go ahead with plans for a peace march planned for Sunday, citing concerns about security and dense traffic.

Local media reported attacks on police officers in a Kurdish neighborhood of Istanbul. Such violence has become more common, with other officers killed this week. PKK militants have accused police of working with IS.

gb/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)