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Turkey–ISIL conflict
Part of the Spillover of the Syrian Civil War and Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Rojava Kurdisch kontrollierte Gebiete.jpg
Territories controlled by the YPG, ISIL, the Syrian Army, Free Syrian Army, or contested in northern Syria, as of late June 2015, south of the border with Turkey.
Date11 May 2013 – present
(9 years, 1 month, 3 weeks and 3 days)
LocationSyria–Turkey border
Status
  • Series of terrorist attacks by ISIL on Turkish soil since 2013
  • Unplanned clash on the border in March 2014
  • First direct conflict began on 23 July 2015 in the border town of Kilis
Belligerents

Turkey Turkey

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

  • Military of ISIL
  • Dokumacılar[5]
Commanders and leaders
Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu
Turkey Necdet Özel
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Abu Ala al-Afri
Abu Ali al-Anbari
Abu Suleiman al-Naser
Strength
423,299 military personnel
182,805 Gendarmes[6]
(2014 figures, of which not all are directly involved)
5 (taking part in the initial offensive on 23 July)
31,500[7]–100,000[8] (in total, of which not all are directly involved)
Casualties and losses
1 killed, 2 wounded[9][10][11] 5 killed
(between 35 to 100 claimed)
2 suicide bombers[10][11][12][13][14]

Civilian Casualties:
87 civilians killed in a series of terrorist attacks connected to ISIL, with more than 300 wounded[15][16][17]


The Turkey–ISIL conflict is an ongoing military conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which began with a series of terrorist attacks and military incidents involving the two organisations in 2013 and 2014. The first direct act of conflict occurred on 23 July 2015, when ISIL militants engaged Turkish soldiers on the Syrian-Turkish border near the town of Elbeyli in Kilis Province, Turkey.

The Turkish government had largely pursued a policy of inaction against ISIL up to July 2015, a stance that was criticised both nationally and internationally.[18][19][20] Clashes between the two on the Turkish-Syrian border had mostly been unplanned. Despite this, ISIL was linked to numerous terrorist attacks on Turkish soil, having allegedly taken the decision to pursue more active operations in Turkey beforehand. Such attacks included the 2013 Reyhanlı bombings, the 2015 Istanbul suicide bombing, the 2015 Diyarbakır rally bombing and most notably the 2015 Suruç bombing. Inaction against ISIL contributed to the breakout of deadly riots by Kurdish citizens during the Siege of Kobanî and was thought to have contributed to Turkey's failure to win a seat in the United Nations Security Council in the 2014 Security Council election.[21][22] Opposition journalists, commentators and politicians also accused the government of implicitly supporting and even funding ISIL, pointing to Turkey's decision to not join the anti-ISIL coalition or allow the United States Air Force to use the highly strategic İncirlik Air Base during the global military intervention against the organisation.[23]

On 23 July 2015, just a few days after an ISIL suicide bomber killed 32 activists in the Turkish district of Suruç, ISIL militants engaged Turkish army positions in the border town of Kilis, killing one soldier. Turkish Armed Forces pursued the militants into Syria, bombarding an abandoned village in which they were thought to be taking refuge,[24] with artillery and F-16 bombing.[25][26][27] The conflict is currently ongoing, with large-scale domestic counter-terrorism operations targeting ISIL members amongst others beginning on 24 July.[28] The Turkish government also reached consensus with the United States to allow the US Air Force to use İncirlik Air Base, a move described as a 'game changer' in the fight against ISIL by many commentators, as well as to create ISIL-free zones in Syria.[4]

Background

During much of the Syrian Civil War, the Turkish government has allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also called ISIS) army to use the "jihadi highway."[29][30] just inside the Turkish side of the Syrian border. While there were a few incidents, detailed below, relations between Turkey and ISIL remained cordial.

The Anti-ISIL coalition

For a while in the late summer and early fall, it appeared that Turkey would join the anti-ISIL coalition, and while fighting on its southern border resulted in shots being fired into Turkey itself, it refused to join, causing blowback and rioting throughout the country.

A joint communiqué issued by the United States and 10 Arab states to stop the flow of volunteers to ISIL was signed by all participating countries except Turkey.[31]

Early conflicts

January 2014 Turkish airstrike

On 28 January 2014, the Turkish air force performed an airstrike on Syrian territory, allegedly aiming to hit an ISIS convoy inside Syria.[32] According to Turkish General staff, a pickup, a truck and a bus in an ISIL convoy were destroyed".[32] Turkish officials also said the January 28 attack was meant to retaliate for ISIL fire on the Turkish Army along the Syrian border. They also cited ISIL raids on ethnic Turkish communities in northern Syria, which sparked an exodus of thousands to Turkey. The Turkish attack came amid threats by ISIL to expand operations into Turkey — a NATO state.[32]

March 2014 Ulukışla shooting

On 20 March, while security forces were conducting routine checks on the Ulukisla-Adana expressway, three foreigners emerging from a taxi opened fire with an AK-47 (some reports say Glock automatics) and lobbed a hand grenade, killing a soldier and a policeman, and wounding five soldiers. The attackers were wounded in return fire, but got away in a van they commandeered for their escape. Two of the attackers who spoke Arabic and English were apprehended at Eminlik village, where villagers, thinking they were wounded Syrians, took them to the local medical clinic. Later the attackers were identified as ISIL operators by Turkish media, and travelled from an ISIL controlled area of Syria.[9]

June 2014 Mosul consulate hostage crisis

During the June 2014 takeover of Mosul, ISIL captured the Turkish consulate and held its staff hostage.[33] This three months-long captivity of 49 people severely restricted Turkey's freedom of action. The hostages were freed in mid September 2014. Turkey denied paying ransom [34] but prisoner swaps were hinted at.[35] It was later revealed that Turkish authorities had initially paid a certain amount of money to ISIL officials and the hostages were later swapped for 180 militants who had been apprehended or undergoing medical treatment in Turkey.[36]

November 2014 ISIL attack from Turkish territory

On 29 November 2014, reports emerged of ISIL fighters launching an assault on Kobanî from Turkish territory.[37] Kurdish sources in Kobane said that on November 29 ISIL fighters attacked Kobane from Turkish territory, and that the assault began with a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber coming from Turkish territory. During the attack, a group of ISIL fighters were seen atop granary silos on the Turkish side of the border.[38][39] According to the German news outlet Der Spiegel, ISIL fighters also attacked YPG positions near the border gate from Turkish soil.[40] According to the SOHR, YPG fighters crossed the Turkish border and attacked ISIL positions on Turkish soil, before pulling back to Syria. Soon afterwards, the Turkish Army regained control of the border crossing and silos area.[41] Turkish government rejected all those claims.

Siege of Kobanî and cross-border refugee movement

In the Summer of 2014, there were riots in Istanbul over relations with locals and refugee,[42] and along the border with Syria as during the September battles with ISIL the army refused to let any more enter the country[43] before relenting.[44]

This has led to a revival of planning for a Turkish buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to house the refugees.[45]

Around September 20, ISIL militants launched an offensive to try to capture the border town of Kobanî besieging it from three sides. More than 140,000 Kurds fled the town and surrounding villages, crossing into Turkey and leading to protests and riots on the Turkish side.[46] and the ending of the two-year-old cease fire between Turkey and the PKK[47]

ISIL troops had taken control of a hill from where fighters from the YPG, the main Kurdish armed group in northern Syria, had been attacking them, 10 km (6 miles) west of Kobanî. The fighting has gotten so close to the border that errant shells have landed in Turkish territory.[48]

On 29 September, thousands of people in many cities across the country marched in solidarity with the people of Kobanî, putting pressure on the government to intervene.[49] The next day, HDP Co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, the deputy leader of the Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament, crossed the border to visit the besieged city, crossing back to demand more action by the government.[50]

ISIL terrorist attacks on Turkish soil

May 2013 border bombing

On 11 May 2013, two car bombs exploded in the town of Reyhanlı, Hatay Province, Turkey. At least 51 people were killed and 140 injured in the attack.[51] The attack was the deadliest single act of terrorism to occur on Turkish soil.[52][53]

In response to the attacks, the Turkish government sent large numbers of air and ground forces to increase the already heavy military presence in the area.[54]

By 12 May 2013, nine Turkish citizens, alleged to have links to the Syrian intelligence agency, had been detained.[55] On 21 May 2013, the Turkish authorities charged the prime suspect, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Four other suspects were also charged. 12 people had been charged in total. All suspects were Turkish nationals that Ankara believed were backed by the Syrian government.[56]

On 30 September 2013, some websites claimed that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also ISIS), operating in Iraq and Syria, accepted responsibility for the attack, threatening further attacks against Turkey.[57][58][59][60][61][62] In January 2014, Turkey launched an airstrike on ISIL bases in Syria.

January 2015 Istanbul bombing

On January 8, 2015, the perperator was identified as Diana Ramazova, a Chechen-Russian citizen from Dagestan. Turkish police are currently investigating Ramazova's possible links to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Further investigation revealed that suspect had photos with insurgents from ISIS [11][63]

2015 Diyarbakır rally bombing

On 5 June 2015, just 48 hours before the 2015 general election, two separate bombs exploded at an electoral rally held by the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). Four HDP supporters were killed and over 100 were injured, with the suspect Orhan Gönder being apprehended in Gaziantep a day after the attack. The perpetrator was identified as a possible member of the ISIL-linked Dokumacılar group, with the HDP also blaming ISIL for the attack.

2015 Suruç bombing

On 20 July 2015, a cultural center in Suruç was bombed by a 20-year-old male ISIL member, who was also allegedly a member of the Dokumacılar group.[64] 32 people were killed in the town of Suruç's municipal culture center in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, and at least 100 people were hospitalised.[65]

Siege of the Süleyman Shah Tomb

Background

On 30 September 2014, the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily claimed that ISIL has been reinforcing militants around the tomb of the burial place of Suleyman Shah (the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire) for the previous three days.[66] Government spokesman later confirmed that ISIL troops were approaching the enclave.[67][68]

30–36 Turkish soldiers are stationed there to guard the tomb. An attack on the tomb, considered Turkish territory under a 1921 Franco-Turkish agreement, was under threat earlier in the year, prompting the government to declare that it would retaliate against any such attack, and would serve as a casus belli.

On 1 October, President Erdoğan said that there were no ISIL troops anywhere near the tomb, contradicting many party spokesmen, and government ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç.[69]

Operation Shah Euphrates

On the night of 21–22 February 2015, a Turkish military convoy including tanks and other armored vehicles numbering about 100 entered Syria to evacuate the tomb's 40 guards and repatriate the remains in what was known as Operation Shah Euphrates.[70] One soldier died during the operation. The tomb complex was destroyed to prevent its use by ISIL.[71]

The tomb is now located in Turkish-controlled territory 200 meters inside Syria, 22 km (14 mi) west of Kobanî and 5 km (3.1 mi) east of the Euphrates, less than 2 km (1.2 mi) southeast of the Turkish village of Esmesi (Esmeler or Esme or Eshme) that is in southernmost Birecik District.[72] The Turkish Foreign Minister has stated that the relocation is only a temporary measure.[73]

The Syrian government said the raid was[74] an act of "flagrant aggression" and that it would hold Ankara responsible for its repercussions.

Preparations for an invasion of Syria

Plans for a possible invasion of Syria became public in late June 2015, when the Financial Times published an article claiming that Jordan was planning an invasion the following month to set up a buffer zone.[75][76] Excitement and worry was beginning to die down when the 2015 Suruç bombing took place. This was followed by sniping at the border, the first direct confrontation between the Turkish military and ISIL, and airstrikes by the Turkish air force at ISIL targets.[77]

It was also announced that the US would permit Turkey to set up a no-fly zone in northern Syria.[78]

Accusations of presidential family support for ISIL

On 17 July 2015, reports surfaced that president Erdogan's daughter, Sümeyye, runs a medical corps responsible for treating injured ISIL members who have been brought in by military truck. Erdogan's son, Bilal, has been accused of being involved in smuggling the Iraqi and Syrian plundered oil through the maritime companies he owns.[79] All claims rejected.

July 2015 conflict

Elbeyli incident

The first direct conflict between ISIL and Turkey began at 13:30 local time on 23 July 2015 when five ISIL militants attacked Turkish soldiers in the border town of Elbeyli, Kilis Province, killing one soldier and wounding two others. Turkish forces subsequently engaged the militants, killing one and heavily damaging ISIL vehicles. Turkish tanks bombarded a small village north of Azaz, Aleppo, with reports stating that several ISIL militants had been killed or wounded while trying to take cover there.[80] A statement by the Turkish Armed Forces confirmed that all five ISIL militants who initially attacked army positions in Elbeyli had been killed.[81]

At around 7pm on 23 July, reports after the initial bombardment of ISIL's positions in Syria stated that as many as 100 ISIL militants had been killed, though such reports were also criticised by anti-government newspapers since the official Turkish Armed Forces figure of ISIL militants killed at the time still remained at 1.[82][83][84]

Operation Martyr Yalçın

At 03:12 on 24 July, four F-16 fighter jets took off from Diyarbakır's 8th main airbase command, targeting ISIL. The operation was named after the soldier killed by ISIL in the attack on Elbeyli, Yalçın Nane.[85] The jets used guided missiles to bomb two ISIL headquarters and one ISIL gathering point in Syria with 100% accuracy according to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The jets bombed the sites without invading Syrian airspace, though the Syrian government was informed of the attack according to Turkish officials.[86] The operation took 1 hour and 12 minutes.[87] It was reported that 35 ISIL militants had been killed during the operation.[88][89]

İncirlik Air base

On 24 July, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave permission to the United States Air Force to use the İncirlik Air Base in Yüreğir, Adana Province. Negotiations between Turkey and the United States over the use of the air base, which is seen as highly strategic due to its proximity to the Turkish-Syrian border, had stalled before the Suruç bombing.[90] The deal between Turkey and the US over the air base was subsequently struck on 24 July, in what the US described as a 'game-changer' in the ongoing military efforts against ISIL.[91]

No-fly zone

The agreement between Turkey and the United States also included the implementation of a no-fly zone over the Syrian-Turkish border to prevent ISIL and the Al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front from gaining ground.[78] The no-fly zone will be 90 km long and extend 50 km deep into Syria, with US-led coalition forces being able to conduct airstrikes on ISIL positions when necessary from İncirlik Air base.[92]

Domestic counter-terrorism operations

On 24 July, around 10,000 police officers participated in a nationwide counter-terrorism operation in 16 Provinces of Turkey and 22 Provinces on 25 July.[93] The police raids targeted suspected members of ISIL, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party–Front (DHKP/C). The PKK's youth organisation, the Patriotic Youth Revolutionary Movement (YGD/H) was also targeted in the raids.[94] One DHKP/C militant was killed, while 590 militants from all of the terrorist groups targeted had been arrested by 25 July 2015. The arrests included one ISIL member who had allegedly been planning a suicide bombing in Konya.[95][96][97]

See also

  • 2015 counter-terrorism operations in Turkey

References

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