Özkan Bilgin - Anadolu Agency

2017: A Critical Year for Counter-Terrorism

Unless we come up with a comprehensive plan to fight and defeat terrorism in the region, European capitals will continue to fear the next terror attack

Over the next year, the war on terror will be Turkey’s top priority. At this point, each terrorist group’s wants places our way of life at risk: FETÖ wants to undermine our democracy, the PKK and its Syrian armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) seeks to jeopardize the country’s territorial integrity and Daesh targets social peace.

To be clear, a number of European democracies couldn’t even dream of surviving such a multi-dimensional assault. Having thwarted a coup attempt in July 2016, the Turkish people completely agree on the need to combat terrorism. The government, in turn, is frustrated with the refusal of their traditional allies to chip in.

Many Turks believe that NATO, the United States and the European Union hardly qualify as Turkish allies when it comes to the war on terror. In recent years, friendly nations have even failed to help Turkey with Daesh – which everybody sees as a serious threat. To add insult to injury, the Western media continues to bash the Turks every single day. Instead of questioning why their governments won’t stand with Turkey, foreign correspondents shamelessly claim that Turkey “used to support ISIS [Daesh].”

This isn’t just a complaint but a reminder that the anti-Turkey campaign will continue until the situation in Syria and the rest of the region stabilizes. Today more than ever, we are witnessing the interest-driven, hypocritical and ugly face of many foreign governments. The only instrument available to us in the face of such shamelessness is to stand in solidarity with each other and develop new policies. One way or another, we must not let the nonsense about lifestyles and authoritarianism and regime change break our will.

The smart thing to do is to carefully analyze the behavior of major players including Washington, Moscow, Brussels and Tehran and to keep pursuing policy goals that ultimately serve our national interests.

As in 2016, the situation in Syria and Iraq will capture our attention over the year. At once, we will discover new opportunities and witness new tensions in our relations with our “allies” and “adversaries.” Today, the Turkish government wants to create a balance of power between various stakeholders in the region. In order to successfully reach our goals, we need to build additional capabilities and networks without backtracking on our initial game plan. 2017 will be dominated by region-wide efforts to restore peace and stability in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory and upcoming races across Europe. In other words, 2017 will be much more intense than the previous year – yet loaded with new opportunities.

Ahead of Inauguration Day, the Obama administration continues to turn down Turkey’s requests for assistance in the fight against Daesh – especially in al-Bab. The main reason behind Washington’s reluctance appears to be the Turkish intention to advance toward YPG targets in Manbij once the job is finished in al-Bab. Sick and tired of Mr. Obama, Turkish officials have started to voice their complaints more frequently. In recent weeks, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim described the relationship as a scandal, while his foreign and defense ministers suggested that Turkey could kick the international coalition out of Incirlik Air Base. It’s not uncommon to hear Turkish officials complaining about the White House failing to keep its promises on Manbij and arming the YPG forces – which, they say, looks like Washington picked a terrorist group over a NATO ally. Just days before handing over the presidency to Mr. Trump, Mr. Obama has single-handedly pushed the Turkish people to the point of calling for the closure of Incirlik.

With the Incirlik debate still going on in Turkey, it’s impossible not to appreciate the irony that the international coalition has been using the base since 2015 because Washington had pledged to fight terrorism in Syria. Today, the once-inspiring international effort to defeat Daesh amounts to nothing but utter disappointment. Behind the smokescreen of carefully-worded statements, everybody knows that the United States has no roadmap for the post-Daesh period, nor have the Americans formed meaningful alliances on the ground. Instead, Washington has helped permanent terror threats including the YPG and Hashd al-Shabi get stronger and perpetuate the appeal of Daesh terrorists.

Ironically, the post-Daesh power struggle makes sure that the terrorists will have ample opportunities to survive. To make matters worse, they remain capable of inflicting serious damage on their rivals – as they continue to do in Mosul and al-Bab. Finally, Daesh can perpetrate massacres on Turkish soil. Unless we come up with a comprehensive plan to fight and defeat Daesh, European capitals will continue to fear the next terror attack.

[Daily Sabah, January 7, 2017]

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