Turkey’s ISIS Challenge

Reports that foreign fighters have used Turkish territory to enter Syria have led to accusations that Ankara has supported the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Others have argued that Turkey is partly to blame for failing to prevent the flow of foreign fighters into Syria. Ankara’s decision to maintain an “open door” policy with Syria for humanitarian reasons and the porous 900-km Syrian-Turkish border make it difficult to prevent foreign fighters or weapons from entering Syria through Turkey. Strategically, it is against Ankara’s interests to support ISIS, which has battled against the Western-recognized Syrian opposition, seized territory and helped bolster the Assad regime.

Turkey has a vested interest in ensuring that both Syria and Iraq maintain their territorial integrity and remain stable. The presence of terrorist groups pose a grave security threat to Turkey and Ankara has taken military actions against militants in Syria. The kidnapping of 49 Turkish consulate staff members in Mosul, including the consul-general, has forced Ankara to remain cautious and avoid any unilateral or multilateral military action. Nevertheless, Turkey announced that it would lend quiet support to the U.S.’s coalition against ISIS, noting that Western arms flowing to Baghdad should not exacerbate sectarian divisions. While it has been called a “reluctant” partner against ISIS, Turkey has advocated a strategy that addresses the underlying political causes of ISIS’ rise.

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