Discussion highlighted Turkey’s past and present efforts in this fight, and the narrowing gap between the U.S. and Turkey’s priorities in Syria


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, Middle East experts discussed Turkey’s varied efforts and complicated history in the fight against ISIS at an event hosted by the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) at the National Press Club. The roundtable discussion focused on how U.S. and Turkey have similar priorities in the fight against ISIS, but also acknowledged some challenges lay ahead. Event attendees included the Turkish-American and Syrian communities as well as representatives from the office of elected officials and think tanks in Washington.

“Increased military action following the Suruc terror attack in Turkey has implications for not only the security situation in the entire region, but also for the U.S.-Turkey relationship overall,” pointed out THO Executive Vice President Ali Cinar during opening remarks at the event. Cinar also emphasized Turkey’s history of addressing the Syrian crisis through humanitarian aid and fighter training programs. “We must not forget everything that Turkey has done before the most recent airstrikes,” he noted. “This is one step in a long line of efforts around Syria.”

Dr. Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute added to the conversation by saying that the Suruc bombing, which killed 32 people and wounded more than 100 others, is “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and led to increased action by Turkey. And as a result, “the Syrian War is boomeranging into Turkey in more ways than anticipated earlier.”

The event moderator, F. Stephen Larrabee, Distinguished Chair in European Security at RAND Corporation, further questioned the panelists on areas where Turkey and U.S. priorities align in Syria and how the fight against ISIS affects the two countries’ long-term relationship.

Although Turkey and the U.S. have differed in their approach to the Syrian civil war before, they are now “closing the gap”, explained Denise Natali, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. “Turkey has been and remains a strategic U.S. ally.”

The experts also noted that challenges lay ahead for these partners, such as, deciding the details of ‘safe zones’ and the end state in Syria. The anti-ISIS coalition will likely work through these challenges on an adjusted timeline of at least several years, remarked Natali.  

In order for the fight against ISIS to succeed and the Syrian civil war to end, Cinar said in closing, “Turkey and the U.S. have to be on the same page in the anti-ISIS coalition. It has to be a partnership, a joint effort to end the war in Syria.”