Turkish strike hits Kurds, complicating terrorist fight
Washington – — In a fresh test for U.S. coalition-building efforts, Turkey is launching airstrikes against Kurdish rebels inside its borders this week despite pleas from the Obama administration to instead focus on an international campaign to destroy Islamic State militants wreaking havoc in the region.
Media reports about the Turkish strikes surfaced Tuesday as President Barack Obama and military chiefs from more than 20 nations gathered in Washington in a show of unity against the Islamic State group.
“This is an operation that involves the world against ISIL,” Obama declared, referring to the militant group by one of its many names.
The Turkish airstrikes occurred Monday and marked the country’s first major strikes against Kurdish rebels on its own soil since peace talks began two years ago. The strikes came amid anger among the Kurds in Turkey, who accuse the government there of standing by while Syrian Kurds are being killed by Islamic State militants in the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani.
The Islamic State militants also have targeted Kurds in Iraq, who have to some extent been able to hold off their advances.
The U.S. has been pressing Turkey — a NATO ally — to take a more active role in the campaign to destroy the Islamic State group, but the Turks have said they won’t join the fight unless the U.S.-led coalition also targets Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. The Obama administration sees those as separate fights.
Officials from Ankara participated in Tuesday’s meeting at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. A U.S. military official familiar with the talks said the chiefs of defense agreed to recommend to their governments that they continue to move forward together against the extremists, “to contribute capabilities best suited to each nation, and to take action to build on the successes already achieved by coalition efforts on the ground and in the air.” The official requested anonymity for providing the information.
Earlier Tuesday, the U.S.-led coalition stepped up attacks on Islamic State targets in Kobani, launching 21 airstrikes in and around the town. One of the strikes targeted the Tel Shair hill that overlooks parts of the city, according to Idriss Nassan, deputy head of Kobani’s foreign relations committee.
Nassan said Kurdish fighters later captured the hill and brought down the black flag of the Islamic State group. However, the extremist group still controls more than a third of the predominantly Kurdish town.
While the White House has tried to point out progress in the campaign against the militants, the government is also preparing the American public for a military effort that could extend well beyond Obama’s presidency. Officials acknowledged Tuesday that the airstrikes in Kobani may not be enough to prevent a militant takeover.
“We certainly do not want the town to fall,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “At the same time, our capacity to prevent that town from falling is limited by the fact that air strikes can only do so much.”