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HomeMiddle EastTurkey Wins NATO Support as It Steps Up ISIS Fight in Syria

Turkey Wins NATO Support as It Steps Up ISIS Fight in Syria

BRUSSELS — Turkey turned to its allies in NATO on Tuesday for political backing, after it agreed to step up efforts against the Islamic State but also renewed its conflict with Kurdish militants.

“All allies expressed their strong support for Turkey, and we stand all together, united in solidarity with Turkey,” Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, told reporters at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels after a meeting of ambassadors of the 28 NATO allies.

But Turkey, which has the second-largest army in NATO after the United States, did not request any additional military assistance.

Its new stance has raised thorny questions for its allies, especially in Europe, about whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is more interested in smashing his Kurdish opponents than he is in defeating the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.

The Kurds are the largest minority in Turkey, and have chafed under Turkish rule. A separatist militant group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the P.K.K., fought a 30-year insurgency there that ended in a fragile cease-fire two years ago, and Kurdish politicians now make up an important opposition bloc in the Turkish Parliament.

Kurdish forces also control large areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria, where they have cooperated effectively with the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State. But Turkey insists that P.K.K. fighters camped there are a terrorist threat, and its warplanes have mounted airstrikes against them in northern Iraq in recent days.

Mr. Erdogan said on Tuesday that it was impossible to continue a peace process with Kurdish militants. “No steps back will be taken in our fight against terrorism,” he told reporters before embarking on a state visit to China.

He also called on the Turkish Parliament to strip politicians who have links to terrorist groups of their immunity from prosecution. His statement appeared to be directed at the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, which some members of the government consider to be the political wing of the P.K.K.

Graphic | Turkey Agrees to More Aggressively Counter ISIS Along Its Border A visual guide to the rise of the Islamic State.

The endorsement by NATO allies on Tuesday represents welcome moral support for the government in Ankara. For now, at least, Turkey’s decision to take a more active role in the fight against the Islamic State, also know as ISIS or ISIL, has won broad backing.

Most importantly, Turkey has given the United States the green light to use its Incirlik air base for manned airstrikes against the Islamic State. The idea is that American and Turkish operations will help forces in Syria that the United States considers relatively moderate to take territory from the Islamic State.

Turkey apparently dropped its reluctance to focus its military forces on Syria after a deadly bombing last week in the eastern town of Suruc that killed 32 people. The government has blamed the Islamic State for the attack.

Closer cooperation between Turkey and the United States could help shut down some of the Islamic State’s most important supply lines. But Turkey also could use its military actions on its southern border to keep a Syria-based Kurdish militia force that it considers a threat from making inroads.

Mr. Stoltenberg did not comment on Tuesday about the Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish targets. A spokeswoman for the European Commission, Mina Andreeva, said on Tuesday that Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s president, spoke with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey over the weekend and stressed to him the need for “proportionality” in actions against the P.K.K.

In the closed NATO meeting on Tuesday, the ambassadors also urged Turkey not to use excessive force against the Kurds and to continue peace talks with them, a NATO official told journalists afterward, speaking on condition of anonymity under the alliance’s rules.

In a statement after the meeting, the ambassadors said they “strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against Turkey, and express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families” of victims killed in recent terrorist actions. “Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO countries and to international stability and prosperity,” the NATO statement said.

Turkey called the meeting under Article 4 of the NATO charter, which allows a member to invoke consultation when there is a pending threat to its security.

Article 4 has only been invoked four times before, three of them by Turkey — in 2003 over the Iraq war, and twice in 2012 over the Syrian civil war, when a Turkish jet was shot down and a mortar shell landed on Turkish soil. Poland invoked the article last year after Russia annexed Crimea.

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(via NY Times)