Here's why Turkey isn't helping save Syria's Kobani from ISIS

Here's why Turkey isn't helping save Syria's Kobani from ISIS
(Image credit: Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters have captured more than a third of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, Reuters reports, citing the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But Kobani's slow-motion fall is being filmed by the media from across the nearby Turkish border, where Turkish tanks and infantry are also watching, doing nothing to intervene.

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The U.S., which has conducted at least 19 airstrikes against ISIS forces outside Kobani, acknowledges that aerial bombardment won't roll back ISIS by itself. The White House wants Turkey, with NATO's second-largest army, to step in with ground forces, shelling, training Syria rebels, or at least letting Turkish Kurdish forces across to the border to help defend Kobani. But it's complicated.

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First, Turkey is pretty open about wanting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deposed, so sending troops into Syria is tricky. Second, Ankara has said it will only start fighting ISIS if the U.S. helps set up a humanitarian buffer zone in northern Syria, an idea Secretary of State John Kerry says is "worth looking at very, very closely," but is considered too expensive and knotty for U.S. planners.

Third, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dislikes the Kurdish militias almost as much as ISIS. The Syrian Kurds fighting in Kobani, known as the YPG, are allied with Turkey's Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), a militant group engaged in a long battle for autonomy. "Americans officials fear Turkey could simply choose to remain out of the fray, and let two of its enemies — the Islamic State group and Kurdish guerrillas — fight for Kobani," says The Associated Press. "That would give the militants an opportunity to do as much damage to the Kurdish fighters in Syria as possible."

Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman is more direct. "Erdogan and his [ruling Justice and Development Party] AKP disciples view Kobani as an opportunity rather than a threat," she writes at Al Monitor.

Erdogan has chosen to exploit Kobani's imminent fall to wrest maximum concessions from assorted Kurdish leaders.... But Turkey would probably be happy to see Kobani fall.... Kobani's fall would deal a humiliating blow to the PKK and weaken its support among Syria's Kurds. [Al Monitor]

Retired U.S. Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy on ISIS, is in Ankara on Thursday to discuss the situation with Turkey.

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