US fears Turkey may also target Kurds defending Syrian city
WASHINGTON (AP) — Even as it prods Turkey to step up in the global fight against Islamic State militants, the United States is worried that Ankara might use military action to target Kurdish fighters who are the last line of defense against extremists trying to take over the Syrian border town of Kobani.
In a careful-what-you-wish-for scenario, U.S. officials acknowledge that drawing Ankara into the war could open a new line of attack against a Kurdish movement that has for decades sought greater autonomy inside Turkey.
At the same time, Americans officials fear Turkey could simply choose to remain out of the fray, and let two of its enemies — the Islamic State group and Kurdish guerrillas — fight for Kobani. That would give the militants an opportunity to do as much damage to the Kurdish fighters in Syria as possible.
Neither scenario is agreeable, the officials said. The issues and implications are expected to be broached — delicately — when U.S. envoys coordinating the international response to the Islamic State group meet Thursday and Friday with Turkish leaders in Ankara. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the diplomatic situation by name.
For months, Turkey resisted using force against the Islamic State, which has rampaged through large amounts of territory just over its borders in Iraq and Syria. Until recently, its reluctance had been mostly excused out of security concerns for dozens of Turkish diplomats and employees who were kidnapped by the militants from the Iraqi city Mosul in June. The hostages were freed last month.
Since then, American officials have grown increasingly frustrated by Ankara’s inaction against the Islamic militants, yet simultaneously nervous about what a Turkish military response would mean for the Kurdish fighters at Kobani.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that Turkey is prepared to take on a bigger role once a deal is reached with the U.S.-led coalition. "Turkey will not hold back from carrying out its role," he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have spoken at least twice this week, and special U.S. envoy retired Marine Gen. John Allen is hoping for answers in his meetings in Ankara on how Turkey plans to join the battle.
"Clearly, on their border, this is of enormous concern to Turkey — and they recognize that," said Kerry, who also described the U.S. as "deeply concerned about the people of Kobani."
Kerry also sounded a note of caution. "These things have to be done in a thoughtful and careful way so everybody understands who is doing what and what the implications are of their doing it and where you go as a result," he said Wednesday.
Last week, Turkey’s parliament approved a measure to allow for assaulting the Islamic State group, a step the U.S. and other world leaders viewed as Ankara’s decision to enter the conflict. But largely left unsaid was that the measure still allows Turkish troops to take aim at the Kurdish separatists. The Kurdish fighters in Syria, known as the YPG, are tied to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, the Kurdish separatist guerrilla movement that is fiercely opposed by the Turks. Both Ankara and Washington have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Ankara is "committed to fighting ISIS terrorists and PKK terrorists," said Bulent Aliriza, a former Turkish diplomat now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, using an acronym for the Islamic State militants.
Turkey "has not intervened in Kobani to break the siege," Aliriza said. "The question is, if it were to intervene, would it fight both?"