ISIS is Erdoğan’s fatal blind spot – Foreign Policy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his haste to tackle Kurdish forces in Syria, has left open a fatal blind spot – the threat of Islamic State (ISIS).

Erdoğan’s tolerance of ISIS fighters who have fled to Turkey from Syria “amounts to passive support and tacit approval”, but the dangers these militants pose could turn into a far greater threat than that of armed Kurdish groups, Colin Clarke and Ahmet Yayla wrote in a joint op-ed for Foreign Policy.

“Tolerating the Islamic State in order to fight the Kurds is therefore a dangerous and myopic policy,” they said. “It will further strain relations with the European Union and the United States on counterterrorism, cooperation, and visa-free travel.

“And when the Islamic State reaches a critical mass, it is likely to turn against its host, just as various militants once supported by Pakistan eventually turned their fury against the Pakistani state and its security forces.”

Harbouring extremists will then no longer remain a viable option for Erdoğan and his supporters, Clarke and Yayla said.

“But at that point it will be too late. Erdoğan’s willingness to ignore the threat from the Islamic State may be what ultimately leads to his political demise.”

Erdoğan has used jihadist militants in Syria to fight Kurdish forces he says are indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), recognised by Turkey, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group that is fighting for autonomy in Turkey.  

The New York Times reported this month that “thousands” of Islamic State fighters had fled Iraq and Syria while a substantial number “have gone into hiding in countries like Turkey.”

Clarke is a political scientist at Rand Corp. and an associate fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague. Yayla is an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University and a former counterterrorism police chief in Turkey.