Is IS easier to defeat than the PKK?

In an article in Radikal, a senior Turkish official explains Turkey's perspective in combating the Islamic State.

al-monitor A member of the Turkish police special forces takes part in a security operation in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Oct. 26, 2015. Two Turkish policemen and seven Islamic State militants were killed in a firefight after police raided more than a dozen houses in Turkey's southeast. Photo by REUTERS/Sertac Kayar.

Topics covered

turkey’s syria policy, turkey's middle east policy, turkey, suruc, pyd, isis, is, ankara

Oct 27, 2015

The police operation against an Islamic State (IS) safe house in Diyarbakir demonstrated the need to see IS terror as a permanent problem for Turkey. In Diyarbakir, police teams raided an IS safe house, killing seven militants and capturing 12. A booby trap at the entrance of the house killed two policemen.

Thanks to intensified measures taken following the suicide bombings in Suruc and Ankara, we have learned that four terrorists have entered Turkey to stage attacks and that there are numerous IS safe houses in operation, especially in the country's southeastern provinces. We know they are equipped with automatic weapons and are protecting themselves with versatile booby traps.

It is up to terror experts to assess where IS stands, but even journalists are aware that IS is not an organization that simply infiltrates Turkey — it has become a full-fledged terror network.

We met a senior Turkish official and discussed Syria at length, enabling me to form new perspectives about combating IS. This is what the source said: 

  • "We were the first to see it: You needn’t be a seer to predict that the instability in Syria would generate such an outcome of terror and immigration. We as Turkey said from the first day that destabilization in Syria and collapse of public order there would lead to terror and immigration. We also said repeatedly that Turkey considers this a national security issue."

  • Threat of extremism: "We warned at the outset that steps must be taken to prevent the tension from becoming an ethnic and sectarian conflict. We warned that such phenomenon would have regional ramifications. Unfortunately all of what we said came true."

  • For all to see: "The emergence of IS happened for all to see. The Syrian regime and Iran in their fight against the Free Syrian Army formed a terror organization that would be a headache for the entire world. They set up a new body whose core was made up of convicts released from prisons, al-Qaeda adherents and former Baathists."

  • We warned the United States: "Actually we were the ones who recognized the new situation and warned the world against a serious threat. We told the United States in the summer of 2013 about the growing IS. We said that IS was hoping to exploit marginalization sentiments of about 30 million Sunnis living in Syria and Iraq and that this enmity could be trouble for the world."

  • At the time when, according to our source, Turkey was alerting the world, Turkey was being strongly criticized because of its lax control of the Syrian border, for allowing foreign fighters to freely enter and leave Syria and even providing weapon and logistics support to various groups fighting the regime.

    Apparently our governments of that time ignored that organizations like IS and its ilk could one day also target Turkey along with the rest of the world and did not take, or were late in taking, measures to prevent that structure from establishing itself in Turkey.

    Here, it would be useful to refer to another view of our source. After claiming that Turkey has been combating IS day and night, he added:

    “There is a basic difference between IS and the PKK. IS has no base here but the PKK does, a massive popular base. History has shown us that any turmoil in this region has always benefited the PKK. At the beginning we didn’t want to speak too much about IS, especially when they had our diplomats as hostages. There was no need to publicize them. We must definitely wipe out IS. It is easier than eradicating the PKK. Many of their militants are not emotionally attached to IS and their affiliation is weak.

    According to the Metropoll research company, which carried out a reliable survey on how IS is perceived in Turkey, 4% of Turks don’t find IS dangerous at all and 11.5% find it not all that dangerous. Those sympathizing with IS make up 1.6%. This is a worrying percentage for a country of 80 million.

    To adopt effective measures against IS, which threatens Turkey’s peace with its suicide bombers and cell structures from Ankara to Diyarbakir, above all these findings we summarized must be reviewed. We must accept the fact that IS has now emerged as an indigenous organization.

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