Date :Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 | Time : 17:12 |ID: 17219 | Print

Why Erdogan is refusing to send his forces into Kobani

SHAFAQNA –  As Islamic State fighters closed in on Kobani last week, Turkish politicians gathered in Ankara to lay the legal groundwork for Turkey’s entry into the Syrian civil war. The pressure to agree the motion was huge. Since Turkish hostages held by Isis had been freed in a murky prisoner swap, the United States made it clear that it expected its Nato ally to join the growing anti-Isis coalition. There was pressure, too, from Turkey’s Kurds, horrified by the prospect of an Isis slaughter of its brothers in Kobani. Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the separatist Turkish Kurdish movement the PKK, warned that peace talks with Ankara would be over if the city were allowed to fall.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the prime minister, vowed that would not happen. Yesterday, however, President Erdogan announced that Kobani’s fall was exactly what was about to happen, and pledged no action at all to prevent it.

Instead, he blamed the US-led coalition for its failure to do Turkey’s multiple biddings: establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria, create a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border and give weapons to Syrian rebels.

Those rebels do not include the Syrian Kurds, who are now having to defend Kobani without any help on the ground against an Isis force bristling with heavy weaponry looted from Syrian and Iraqi armed forces.

Turkey may not be as enthusiastic a backer of Isis as some of its detractors might claim, but it does not necessarily see it in the same light as some of its allies.

Turkey has other worries along its frontier with Syria, from its enmity towards the Assad regime to its deep fear of emboldening Kurdish nationalists on either side of the border.

Syrian opposition rebels share Turkey’s distrust of the Syrian Kurds, whom they see as overly friendly to the Assad regime. Syria’s Kurds insist that they are trying only to preserve themselves.

In their eyes, Mr Erdogan’s push for a buffer zone inside Syria is a naked attempt to roll back the gains in autonomy the war allowed them before Isis set its sights on their territory.

When Salih Muslim, the Syrian Kurds’ political leader, begged for military aid to save Kobani, he was told that he could have it, but with strict conditions: dismantle the self-governing cantons established this year, renounce any claim to self-determination and allow the setting up of the buffer zone. He declined.

Washington, too, has shown coolness towards the idea of the buffer zone but Mr Erdogan refuses to give up. Mr Davutoglu, meanwhile, re-emphasised Turkey’s belief that President Assad is the true villain in Syria, asserting that it was the West’s failure to remove him that had led to the rise of Isis. That underlined how unlikely Turkey is to allow any military action from its soil that does not target the Assad regime too.

A spillover of the fighting into Turkish territory may yet force it into the conflict, but not necessarily on its own. Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s new secretary-general, says that “Nato will be there” if it faces attack from forces in Syria.

That promise puts pressure on Turkey to commit more fully to the coalition now that the legal avenues are clear. Senior US envoys are on their way to Ankara this week to discuss what expanded role Turkey can take. Few Kurds believe that saving Kobani will be part of the deal.

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