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      NATO Is Cool With Turkey's 'War on Terror' Against The Islamic State and The Kurds

      NATO Is Cool With Turkey's 'War on Terror' Against The Islamic State and The Kurds NATO Is Cool With Turkey's 'War on Terror' Against The Islamic State and The Kurds NATO Is Cool With Turkey's 'War on Terror' Against The Islamic State and The Kurds
      Photo by Julien Warnand/EPA

      War And Conflict

      NATO Is Cool With Turkey's 'War on Terror' Against The Islamic State and The Kurds

      By John Beck

      NATO expressed "strong support" for Turkey on Tuesday, after holding an emergency meeting in Brussels as Ankara pursues a two-pronged "war on terror" targeting Islamic State jihadists as well as Kurdish militants.

      Representatives from all 28 NATO countries convened in Brussels after member state Turkey invoked Article 4 of the Washington Treaty allowing consultation if a country feels its "territorial integrity, political independence, or security" is under threat. A suicide bombing carried out by a Turkish citizen suspected of links with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group killed 32 pro-Kurdish acitvists in Suruc, a small town on the border with Syria on June 27, and a number of security force officers have been killed or injured in attacks over the past week. 

      NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the meeting's conclusion that there had been "full agreement" on support for Turkey and that all present condemned terrorism "in all its forms." "Today's meeting...showed that we stand in strong solidarity with Turkey, we will continue to follow the developments on the southeastern border of NATO very closely," he told reporters. 

      "All allies stand in solidarity with Turkey, we strongly condemn the terrorist attacks, we express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families of the victims in Suruc and other attacks against police and military officers. Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO countries and to international stability and prosperity."

      He added that Turkey had not requested any military support from NATO members. 

      "What we all know is that Turkey is a staunch ally. Turkey has a very capable armed forces, the second largest army within the alliance," Stoltenberg said.

      The meeting comes as the US and Turkey have reportedly agreed to work together in an attempt to push IS out of the the roughly 60 miles of territory it controls adjacent to the Turkish border. Ankara envisages that his would allow Syrians who fled into Turkey to move back into a relative safe haven, although American officials say the creation of a safe zone for refugees is not the goal of the operation. 

      The details of this cooperation have not been officially announced but a number of media outlets have quoted anonymous US officials as saying that it would involve creating an "IS-free zone," likely through the use of heavy air strikes and cooperation with American-approved militias already fighting IS in the area. 

      Turkey also decided this week to allow American warplanes to conduct operations from its southern Incirlik airbase, a move that would enable the US to intensify its air campaign against IS in Syria by moving its base of operations much closer. 

      This marks a significant policy shift for Turkey, which is a member of the US-led coalition bombing the group in Iraq and Syria, but had not taken on a prominent role, despite intense international pressure and criticism. Instead, IS had been able to bring weapons and fighters into its territory through Turkey and smuggle oil out on a fairly large scale. Border security has now been tightened significantly and hundreds of IS suspects detained, Turkish officials say.

      Airstrikes on IS began Friday after the jihadists fired on a Turkish border post the previous day, killing one soldier and prompting a brief skirmish that also left at least one IS fighter dead.

      But its attack jets also pounded the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq's Qandil mountains, the most intensive campaign against the group in that area since 2011. Strikes continued on Sunday as Turkish F-16s based in southeastern Diyarbakir bombed PKK positions in Hakuk, northern Iraq, according to a number of local media outlets.

      Turkey, as well as the US and the European Union, view the PKK as a terrorist organization due to a history of attacks on civilian and military targets during a 30-year fight for autonomy from the Turkish state that claimed more than 40,000 lives. Its members are also fighting IS in Kurdish Iraq alongside the regional government's Western-backed peshmerga forces. 

      A landmark ceasefire agreement brought a fragile peace to Turkey's majority Kurdish southeast, granting more rights to the Kurdish population, long subject to restrictions on use of its own language and cultural practices.

      On Saturday, in response to the airstrikes, the PKK said that conditions were no longer in place to adhere to the ceasefire. 

      "By carrying out the recent attacks Turkey has practically and unilaterally ended the state of non-conflict and the peace-process," Zagros Hiwa, a spokesman for the PKK's executive political council, the Kurdistan Communities Union, told VICE News on Monday. 

      "As the Kurdish Freedom Movement we will defend ourselves and our peoples against the attacks of [the] Erdogan Administration," he said. "A new era of struggle and resistance has started for the Kurds."

      The PKK claimed responsibility for the killing of two police officers last week following the Suruc bombing, claiming the men were IS collaborators.

      A car bombing in the town of Lice in Diyarbakir province killed two soldiers and injured four later on Saturday. A statement issued by the provincial governor's office blamed "terrorists" for the attack, a term usually used to refer to the PKK. No group has yet claimed responsibility. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz also blamed the group for an explosion at a gas pipeline connecting Turkey and Iran on Monday night.

      But the deal had shown signs of strain in recent months as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increased nationalist rhetoric in the leadup to June's parliamentary elections and frustration built among Kurds at perceived government inaction regarding the peace process.

      Many also question whether the motivation behind Ankara's deal with Washington is limiting Kurdish capabilities in Syria rather than in tackling IS.

      Much of the area adjacent to the Turkish border is held by Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which are fierce opponents of the jihadists and receive regular US air support in their fight against them. Turkish leaders have described the YPG as "terrorists" due to its affiliation with the PKK and have seemingly been concerned at recent expansion in territory under its control, even at IS's expense. 

      On Monday, the YPG accused Turkish troops of shelling both it and allied Free Syria Army (FSA) rebels in a village close to the Islamic State (IS) held town of Jarabulus on Friday, injuring four FSA members and a number of civilians, then targeting Kurdish forces in the same village on Sunday, as well as a YPG vehicle east of the border enclave of Kobane. 

      "Instead of targeting IS terrorists' occupied positions, Turkish forces attack our defenders positions," the YPG said in a statement. "This is not the right attitude. We urge Turkish leadership to halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines. We are telling the Turkish Army to stop shooting at our fighters and their positions."

      A Turkish official told Reuters that they were investigating the claims, and that the YPG had not been intentionally targeted.

      Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck

      Watch the VICE News documentary, "PKK Youth: Fighting for Kurdish Neighborhoods." 

      Topics: middle east, islamic state, turkey, syria, pkk, war and conflict, ypg, bashar al-assad, erdogan, istanbul, us air force

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