Turkey's anti-ISIS fight also targets Kurdish separatists

ISTANBUL • Forced after months of hesitation to take action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Turkey yesterday said it has also attacked the Kurdish militants it has outlawed, but denies targeting Syrian Kurds.

A Turkish government official dismissed claims by Kurdish forces and a monitoring group that tanks had shelled Kurdish-held villages in northern Syria.

"The military operation seeks to neutralise imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target ISIS in Syria and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) in Iraq," the official said.

He said the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) "remains outside the scope of the current military effort".

The Kurdish People's Protection Units in Syria claims Turkish tanks had hit its positions and those of allied Arab rebels in the village of Zur Maghar in Aleppo province.

Turkey has been pounding ISIS targets inside Syria since last Friday, after blaming the group for a suicide bombing that killed 32 people, and in the face of sustained US pressure to do more against ISIS.

But Turkey has also expanded its campaign to target the outlawed PKK's forces in northern Iraq, its biggest such bombing raid since 2011, following deadly attacks blamed on the Kurdish separatists.

Ankara has lumped both campaigns together into a broad "war on terror", even though the secular PKK and Islamist ISIS are themselves bitterly opposed.

Analysts say the ruling Justice and Development Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to score points with voters after its disappointing performance in the June 7 polls and also prevent Kurds gaining a strong foothold in Syria.

Turkey regards the PKK, which has waged an insurgency in the country's south-east since 1984, as a terror group and the main Syrian Kurdish group fighting ISIS - the PYD - as the PKK's Syrian branch.

Middle East politics professor David Romano at Missouri State University said the chief focus of Turkey's campaign may prove to be the PKK rather than ISIS.

"Ankara thus hits several birds with one stone," said Professor Romano, author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movement. With Turkey finally allowing the United States to carry out anti-ISIS strikes from its Incirlik airbase, Ankara hopes for a "quid pro quo" that will see the US distance itself from the PKK-linked PYD in Syria, he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Turkey's anti-ISIS fight also targets Kurdish separatists'. Print Edition | Subscribe