Kobani: Blackmail in the Buffer Zone

The U.S. needs Turkey to join the fight against the Islamic State. But Turkey won’t do it without dragging the U.S. deeper into Syria’s civil war.

The White House and its allies are pressing Turkey to join the military fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State as the terrorist organization continues fighting for a complete conquest of the Syrian border town of Kobani. But Turkey has drawn a line in the sand: Unless the United States and its coalition partners create a “buffer zone” along the Syrian-Turkish border, it’s planning to sit this one out.

The Obama administration appears to be moving closer to accepting Ankara’s demand. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that creating a buffer zone was an idea worth examining. On Sunday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC’s This Week that he anticipated that “there could be circumstances in the future where that would be part of the campaign.”

Capitol Hill is also stepping up its pressure on the Obama administration. Michigan’s Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that he believed the United States should “seek to establish a delineated buffer zone along the Turkish border to protect civilians, secured by Turkish boots on the ground and protected by a coalition no-fly zone.”

When asked at the State Department on Wednesday about the possibility of creating a buffer zone, retired Gen. John Allen, the U.S. special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, said the allies would “consider all means necessary to provide” for the Syrian rebel force it plans to train to fight the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

“I think it’s too early to tell specifically with regard to a term or an effect,” he said.

Meanwhile, Turkey indicated it might offer more support to the fight, agreeing late last week that it would be willing to allow the training of at least 2,000 Syrian opposition fighters on Turkish soil. U.S. officials said Turkey had also agreed to allow the United States to use Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey to launch attacks against the Islamic militant group, but Turkey quickly denied these reports, and continued to push for a no-fly zone before it got any further involved.

The debate around creating a buffer zone or a no-fly zone is a complicated one for the White House because at its heart is the more fundamental question of whether the United States wants to confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad directly…

(Photo: People watch from a hill in Turkish territory as the International anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition continues to carry out airstrikes on the town of Kobani, Syria, as seen from Turkey, near Suruc district, Sanliurfa, Turkey. Tolga Bozoglu/EPA)

This one is complicated. Erdogan dislikes both the Alawite sect from which Bashar Assad hails and the Kurds in general. He wants to be rid of Assad and prefers the Islamic State to the Alawites, seen as apostates at best. Humanitarian concerns are not high in the minds of the Islamist party ruling Turkey.