Turkey gives US limited anti-IS support

Kerry receives pledges of humanitarian assistance, logistics support and intelligence

US secretary of state John Kerry at  a news conference in Ankara yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Brendan Smialowski

US secretary of state John Kerry at a news conference in Ankara yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Brendan Smialowski


US secretary of state John Kerry has received pledges from top officials that Turkey will provide humanitarian assistance, logistics support and intelligence without becoming overtly involved in Washington’s military campaign against the Islamic State (IS).

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu refused, for the third time, to sign up to the US-led anti-IS coalition of western and Arab states.

After four hours of meetings with the three Turkish politicians in Ankara, Mr Kerry did not comment on the highly sensitive talks, saying only that roles in the coalition would be defined later.

Ankara said it will not allow the Incirlik Nato base in Turkey to be used by US warplanes carrying out strikes on IS in Iraq and Syria. It also said it will not deploy Turkish troops in a ground war. Instead, it said Incirlik could be used for logistics support and humanitarian missions.

On the eve of Mr Kerry’s arrival Turkish officials said Ankara cannot make a public commitment that would risk the lives of 46 Turkish hostages held by IS fighters when they seized control of the Iraqi city of Mosul in June.

Ankara fears bloody retribution from IS supporters in poor disaffected urban suburbs that have supplied IS with up to 3,000 recruits. Ankara is also concerned about arming Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, thereby encouraging separatist Turkish Kurds to opt for autonomy.

Pressure on Ankara

The US has stepped up pressure on Ankara to stem the flow of Turkish and foreign fighters, and arms and funds, across its border into Syria and Iraq.

In its bid to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Turkey has become the main staging area for foreign jihadis wanting to enter Syria and Iraq.

Turkey could also deny insurgents a safe haven and hospital care and bar the smuggling of oil products from Syria’s main oil fields in Deir al-Zor. Revenue from the sale of cut-price Syrian oil has given the IS financial independence.

While Ankara has until recently discounted the threat IS and its jihadi allies pose to Turkey, Saudi Arabia –font of the IS puritan ideology, financier and armourer – has seen the IS danger to the kingdom and has taken a strong stand against IS and al-Qaeda’s affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. It has prohibited Saudi citizens from fighting in foreign wars and arrested returnees from the Syrian conflict.

Some 2,500 Saudis are said to be fighting in Syria and Iraq, constituting the second largest number of foreign recruits.

However, Saudi Arabia and the other nine Arab states which have agreed to join the US coalition did not commit to the use of their territory for mounting US airstrikes against the IS. They are reluctant to openly back attacks on fellow Sunnis which could alienate domestic opinion as well as Sunnis in Syria and Iraq who see IS as a positive force.

Riyadh has offered to host training for US “approved” Syrian insurgent groups battling both IS and the Syrian army but has not clarified the Saudi role.

So far, some 3,000 “vetted “rebels” have been trained and armed by US special forces in Jordan, which appears to be unwilling to continue, but they can’t match the 20,000-31,500 IS fighters the US Central Intelligence Agency estimates are in Syria and Iraq.