Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fact Check: ISIS or the Kurds - who is 'Sometimes NATO Ally' Turkey's priority?

Fact Check: ISIS or the Kurds - who is 'Sometimes NATO Ally' Turkey's priority? (Irin).By Joe Dyke and Noah Blaser.

Late last month, Turkey launched airstrikes on the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in what the United States welcomed as a major moment in developing a joint strategy to tackle the Islamist militants.

But one day later, Ankara also renewed its military campaign against the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), mostly by bombing rebel bases across the border in the mountains of northern Iraq. Turkey fought a bloody 30-year civil war with the PKK separatists until an historic ceasefire in 2013.

The United States considers the PKK a terrorist group, but its sister organisation in Syria has been a key US ally in the fight against ISIS. US President Barack Obama warned Turkey not to use ISIS as an excuse to bomb the Kurdish rebels, but the PKK leadership says this is exactly what it is doing.

Does the evidence stack up? IRIN ran the numbers.


Since the initial days (when there were three airstrikes), Turkey has carried out no more attacks against ISIS. In Iraq and far eastern Turkey, however, there have been dozens.

The Turkish government does not release exact numbers or locations, but Metin Gurcan, a former member of the Turkish special forces and now an analyst tracking the crisis, says there have been five waves of attacks against the PKK. In total, he estimates around 300 strikes – including a large number from storm howitzers based near the Turkey-Iraq border.

Likewise, the number of fighters killed is almost incomparable – just nine ISIS militants, compared with nearly 400 Kurdish fighters.

The two conflict sites are hardly close. As the map below shows, the areas they are bombing are some 600 kilometres apart.


Two months before the campaign began, Turkey held inconclusive parliamentary elections. For the first time in over a decade (see chart right), the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was left without a majority, while the predominately Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) made major gains. The four parties in parliament have been unable to form a coalition and so another election looks likely.

Critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AKP's most prominent figure, accuse him of restarting the war with the Kurds in order to bolster his electoral support. The HDP estimates that more than 1,000 of its members have been detained as Erdogan has cracked down since the Suruc bombing, which targeted its supporters but was widely blamed on ISIS.


Those that claim that Turkey is more focussed on fighting the PKK than ISIS certainly have plenty of evidence - from the huge disparity in air strikes to the number of arrests.

With elections looming, political calculations certainly play a part, but while the United States and other Western country may see the Islamic State as the most immediate threat for Turkey, those in power in Ankara seem to disagree. Hmmmm......How many Kurdish lives is the incirlik base worth? Read the full story here.

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