Turkey is currently dealing with two main forms of ISIS activity within its borders:
- Terrorist attacks against both tourists and left-wing Kurdish groups (also incurring minor Turkish military and police casualties)
- The organization’s tight-knit and dug-in networks, finance and recruiting operations — which are taking on a more sociological form in some provinces
While the first (more explicit) challenge requires a more traditional counterterrorism and intelligence approach, the second (less explicit, but which acts as a force multiplier on the first) brings in a wider array of social, economic and cultural policy options, argues Wikistrat’s Dr. Akin Ünver in this report.
Turkey turned a blind eye to ISIS as a part of its strategy of supporting (or at least not disrupting) cross-border transit of all groups targeting the Assad regime in Syria. Many of these cells were established and spread across Turkey when the group was still a fringe organization. Even after ISIS became a formidable player in Syria in 2014, Turkey did not stop the group’s activity within its borders, mainly out of its anti-Assad priorities and because for a long time it did not consider ISIS to be a present or future danger to Turkish interests.
Now that’s changed and Turkey needs to decide which war it wants to wage. Its fight with Kurdish separatists, both in Turkey and across the border in Syria, is sapping immense security resources and making it difficult to get Turkey’s NATO allies on its side.
The open-ended nature of security operations also serves to significantly alienate Kurdish public opinion inside Turkey, creating another long-term radicalization problem.
Even if the Kurdish problem were (temporarily) settled, though, Turkey would require all of its available resources along with international intelligence support to tackle its ISIS problem at home. The absence of solid data on the extent of ISIS entrenchment in Turkey, along with the existing mistrust between Turkish security institutions, renders this a long-term affair.
Click here or on the cover image to download the report.
About the author
Dr. Akin Ünver
Wikistrat Senior Analyst
Assistant Professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University