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Why has Turkey only now joined the fight against ISIL?

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Why has Turkey only now joined the fight against ISIL?


Turkish fighter jets hit ISIL targets early on Friday (July 24). The jets, launched from a base in Diyarbakir, killed around 30 militants in 13 minutes of missile strikes, without entering Syrian airspace.

Simultaneously, Turkish police launched operations at hundreds of addresses in 16 cities across the country, and detained 297 people, among them 37 foreigners. The anti-terror operation targeted ISIL, PKK and left-wing groups.

ISIL has long been making threats towards Turkey but the government has held off from a concerted response until now.

Euronews’ correspondent in Turkey, Bora Bayraktar, looks at why:

Priority change

ISIL has been considered as a terrorist organization by Turkey since it first appeared in Iraq and Syria. But for Ankara the fight against the Kurdish PKK has been the number one priority.

The Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, has been in conflict with the Turkish authorities since the 1980s, killing more than 40,000 people. Since 2012 Turkish Intelligence has been in talks with the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Itself under pressure from Kurdish fighters in the north, ISIL has tried to undermine this dialogue through threats and sectarian attacks. However, the recent ISIL attacks in Turkey, which killed 31 youngsters in the city of Suruç, have changed the focus.


Turkey hosts more than two million refugees, mostly from Syria.

Recently the Turkish deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmuş said Turkey has exhausted its ability to host refugees and cannot tolerate any more newcomers.

Accordingly Turkey – fearing that the advance of ISIL to the west would force more people to rush to the Turkish border – wants to create a safe haven in Syria.

But without an international mandate or the consent of the Syrian regime, Turkey cannot properly implement this plan.

Therefore, Ankara is seeking instead to stop the advance of ISIL towards the west and strengthen the Free Syrian Army in western Aleppo to stop another flow of refugees, whose total number could hit 4.5 million.

ISIL challenge

For a long time the Islamist militants did not want to provoke a Turkish reaction on their northern front and kept a low profile against the Turkish army.

This is one of the reasons Turkey had not prioritised the group.

But the attack in Suruç, and another direct hit against Turkish border guard in Kilis, changed this equation. Under direct attack from the militants Ankara has no other choice but to retaliate.

Domestic politics

After the June 7 elections, Turkey has struggled to establish a government. The ruling AK Party, lost its majority in parliament and President Erdogan’s hopes for changing the political system seem to have been dashed.

Some analysts believe that Turkey will go to the polls again in November and the escalation of violence is related to this political backdrop.

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