Angry Turkey means Kobani's goose may be cooked

I mentioned the Turks bombing the Kurds earlier this morning, but it’s such an epic clusterfark that it deserves its own post.  First up, we’ve got Susan Rice, the Liar of Benghazi, cruising the Sunday shows to drop another whopper, claiming on NBC’s Meet the Press that Turkey made an exciting new commitment to give the anti-ISIS coalition use of its bases:

“The Turks have, this just in the last several days, made a commitment that they will in the first instance allow the United States and our partners to use Turkish bases and territory to train??? hold on let me explain this carefully ??? to train the moderate Syrian opposition forces.

“So that is a new commitment that they have now joined Saudi Arabia in giving the go-head for that important contribution. In addition, they have said that their facilities inside of Turkey can be used by the coalition forces, American and otherwise, to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria.

“That???s the new commitment, and one that we very much welcome.”

Turkey had a cow, denying that they made any such agreement.  They’ve expressed some interest in training “moderate” Syrian forces to fight Bashar Assad, but they haven’t even formally agreed to that yet, much less giving resources to the anti-ISIS coalition.  Turkey’s big priorities are taking down the Assad regime, and keeping the Kurds in check.  Despite some diplomatic lip service to the contrary, they’re not all that worried about the Islamic State yet.  Among other things, they’re confident NATO will protect them if ISIS develops any designs on Turkish territory.

The Kurds, on the other hand, are an immediate problem for Turkey – the sort of immediate problem that gets almost forty people killed in clashes between demonstrators and security forces during the course of a single week.  The Kurds are organized into various militia groups, a fact not often highlighted by U.S. media, which tends to describe them as a single entity.  One of those Kurdish militias, the PKK, has a 30-year history of insurgency against the Turkish government that only recently cooled with a cease-fire agreement in 2012.  The PKK is furious that Turkey isn’t doing more to help the Kurds under siege in Kobani.  This anger boiled over into riots.

That’s why the Turks bombed the Kurds… using some American-built F-16 warplanes.  From a BBC report:

The air strikes on Daglica were in response to PKK shelling of a military outpost, the armed forces said.

Both sides have been observing a truce and it is the first major air raid on the PKK since March 2013.

Kurds are furious at Turkey’s inaction as Islamic State (IS) militants attack the Syrian border town of Kobane.

Fighters from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) have been aiding Kurdish YPG militia in Kobane and Turkey has refused to help supply its long-standing enemy with weapons or allow Kurdish fighters to enter Syria.

Two PKK commanders wounded in fighting were arrested by Turkish authorities when they arrived for treatment in hospital in south-eastern Turkey, Anatolia news agency reported.

French President Francois Hollande appealed to the government in Ankara on Tuesday to open its border, as US-led fighter jets continued to target IS fighters in and around Kobane.

The air raids on PKK positions near the south-eastern village of Daglica on Monday caused “heavy casualties”, Hurriyet daily reported.

The strikes followed a three-day PKK assault on a military outpost with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers, it said.

So a vital American ally and NATO member is not only sitting idly by while the ISIS savages lay siege to a city packed with civilians, and sealing their border against refugees from the fighting, but they’re using U.S. planes to drop bombs on the people who were supposed to form the most effective side of the anti-ISIS ground-forces triangle (the others being the largely mythical “moderate Syrian rebels,” who have this crazy fixation on rebelling against Syria, and the not-terribly-useful Iraqi army.)  Not only is ISIS taking ground and making the Obama Administration look impotent, but they’re destabilizing Turkey.

This should not have been a completely unforeseen circumstance for Obama and his strategists.  A teenager with a laptop could spend an afternoon online and produce a term paper more insightful that Obama’s handling of the Turkish situation.  Nothing about their uneasy relationship with the Kurds is a secret; the Kurdish PKK is regarded as a terrorist organization by Western governments, as well as Ankara; forty thousand people died during that 30-year Kurdish insurgency; and the strategic map of the theater is easy to read.  Here’s one from the BBC:


How long do you have to look at that map before you see what the big strategic plays are?  Would it help to draw in some stick-figure cartoons of Turks and Kurds scowling at each other north of Kobani?

It was entirely predictable that ISIS would move to shake up Turkey.  Their planners must have been cackling with evil glee when they heard Obama and his talking heads describe the Kurds as the tip of the anti-caliphate spear.  Obama did nothing effective to prepare the diplomatic battlespace for this crisis; he’s been entirely on defense, completely reactive, ever since ISIS’ genocidal attack on the Yazidis, and threat to the Kurdish capital of Irbil, seize the headlines and forced the grumpy semi-retired President off the back nine.  A bit of long-term strategic foresight would have added Turkish stability to the list of reasons to prevent ISIS from boiling over the Syrian borders, but our junior varsity President blew that one long ago.

What was the thinking behind sending Susan Rice out to peddle this mythical “welcome new commitment” against ISIS from Turkey?  You don’t make a big announcement like this until you’ve got the agreement completely nailed down.  Did Team Obama assume the perilous situation in Kobani would shame the Turks into action?  Did they think a bit of Sunday-show chatter would make Turkish president Recep Erdogan cast aside his demands, which the UK Guardian notes have been on the record for quite some time, and haven’t budged an inch?

Turkey???s president, Recep Tayyip Erdo??an, has repeatedly said the priority for Turkey is the ousting of Assad. Speaking at an Istanbul university on Monday, Erdo??an said: ???We will fight against Isis with the same conviction as before, but we have certain conditions. One: there needs to be a no-fly zone. Two: there needs to be a buffer zone [inside Syria]. Three: we have to train [opposition fighters]. Four: the Syrian regime has to be targeted. You cannot solve this situation in Kobani alone. There are many Kobanis in Syria. If there is Kobani today, there is Aleppo, Hasakah and Mosul tomorrow.???

Observers pointed out that Turkey???s more active participation in the fight against Isis might mean a heightened security threat within its own borders. According to Turkish media reports, Turkish police confiscated ???large amounts??? of explosives, including several suicide vests, in the south-eastern province of Gaziantep this weekend. Police are reportedly investigating whether the seized material was part of a possible Isis operation in Turkey.

If that’s true, it looks like ISIS is doing more long-term strategic planning than anyone in the White House.  But, then, that’s what it means when the enemy has the initiative in warfare.  Obama has made no progress whatsoever toward taking the initiative – American moves are all reactions to ISIS advances, from the Kobani menace to the gathering storm around Baghdad.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer called Rice’s Sunday-show appearances, and the subsequent denial by Turkey, “a huge embarrassment… the kind of mistake an amateur would make and you wouldn’t do it in the middle of a war.”  He added that not only is there tension between the Turks and Kurds, but the Turks know “Obama is simply not serious about this war, so why would you join a war where the leader of the coalition is not serious?”

As the Administration dispatches Secretary of State John Kerry to clean up Susan Rice’s mess and insist there’s really not too much daylight between the Obama and Erdogan Administrations, that question of seriousness will weigh upon many minds.  There are many reasons to hope the Kurds in Kobani pull off a victory and rout ISIS.  One of them is that the fall of the city could trigger a Turkish civil war (are the Turks going to fire on refugees streaming out of the city?  Isolate them in camps?)  And Obama has already checkmated himself by making his big “no ground troops” statements, which means the Islamic State has an incentive to create conditions where only American ground troops could stave off disaster.


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