Turkey escalates Islamic State fight, with airstrikes and arrests

The airstrikes were prompted by intelligence indicating a likely Islamic State attack. The US said a deal has been reached with Turkey to use a key airbase.

Turkish soldiers patrol near the border with Syria, ouside the village of Elbeyli, east of the town of Kilis, southeastern Turkey, Friday, July 24, 2015. Turkish warplanes struck Islamic State group targets across the border in Syria early Friday, government officials said, a day after IS militants fired at a Turkish military outpost, killing a soldier. The bombing is a strong tactical shift for Turkey which had long been reluctant to join the US-led coalition against the extremist group.

Turkish fighter jets struck three Islamic State targets in Syria early Friday morning, a response to intelligence suggesting a likely attack from the group, government officials said.

The strikes – which hit two command centers and a meeting point for IS fighters – capped a week of bloody conflict between IS and Turkey, which has led to a more muscular response from Ankara to jihadi activity within its borders.

“We received intelligence about stockpiles of weapons and a gathering of Islamic State militants very close to our border,” a senior Turkish government official told The New York Times. “The operation was carried out, not as an offense, but as a defense.”

Almost simultaneous to the airstrikes, in a series of coordinated dawn raids in 13 provinces, Turkish authorities arrested 251 people suspected of involvement with IS or Kurdish militant groups, Agence France Presse reported.

According to AFP, the airstrikes and mass arrests follow several days of violent confrontation between the Turkish military and police and militant groups, which began when 32 people were killed Monday in a suicide bombing attributed to IS in the mostly Kurdish town of Suruc near the Syrian border.

This sparked an upsurge in violence in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast, where many accuse the Turkish authorities of collaborating with IS, accusations Ankara denies.
Two police were shot dead in southeast Turkey close to the Syrian border on Wednesday, in an attack claimed by the PKK's [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] military wing which said it wanted to avenge the Suruc bombing. On Thursday, another policeman was killed in the majority Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.
Meanwhile, YDG-H [the PKK’s youth wing] claimed it had shot dead an alleged former IS fighter in Istanbul late Tuesday.

Also Thursday, US officials announced they had reached a long-awaited agreement with Ankara to allow US airstrikes on Islamic State targets from a base near Turkey’s Syrian border, the Associated Press reports.

The agreement followed months of negotiations between Washington and Ankara, which has objected to the United States’ prioritization of fighting IS over toppling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This week’s attacks, however, underscored for Turkey the importance of pushing back IS forces and may have tipped the scales in favor of the US position, the AP reports.

US officials, for their part, described the agreement as a “game changer” in the fight against IS, The New York Times reports. Allowing the US in, however, also pushes Turkey further into a conflict it has so far approached cautiously, despite its geographic proximity to IS operations.

As The Wall Street Journal reports:

The decision to more directly confront Islamic State in alliance with the U.S. could expose Turkey to a heightened risk of attack by extremists. Thursday’s clash highlighted the dangers Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, already poses to Turkey, which has long served as the primary lifeline connecting the group’s de facto capital in Syria with the outside world.

One Turkish news agency reported that 35 militants may have been killed in Friday morning’s airstrikes, according to Today’s Zaman. The casualty figures remain unconfirmed.

The Turkish planes did not cross the border into Syrian airspace, according to government reports, instead launching guided missiles from inside Turkey on targets approximately one mile inside Syria. This suggests Ankara was seeking to avoid the confrontation with Mr. Assad’s regime that would have likely been triggered by crossing into Damascus' airspace, reports The New York Times.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.