August 20, 2015
Turkey and the United States have worked together to ensure the stability of the region for more than 60 years as partners in NATO. As new threats have emerged, the security partnership between the two countries has evolved. News of expanding Turkey-U.S. coordination in the counterterrorism campaign against the Islamic State has made clear that we are once again entering a new era in cooperation between the two countries.
Turkey's strategic location at the crossroads of east and west has made it a key member of NATO since 1952. From contributing troops to missions in Eastern Europe in the 1990s to partaking in Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, Turkey has been a crucial part of security operations around the world. Today, the threats that the international community face have changed as new terror groups have emerged. But a united front against threats is just as important as ever.
Turkey's 786-mile border with Syria and Iraq puts Turkey on the front lines of the fight against terrorism. Millions of refugees from the conflicts in the region have fled their homes and sought refuge in Turkey. As a result, Turkey has welcomed more than 1.8 million refugees since these conflicts have erupted, building more than 20 refugee camps and spending nearly $6 billion to house, feed, clothe and treat these victims of unrest.
While there has been much hand-wringing but little financial support in the West for the refugees, Turkey has taken action and borne the brunt of the burden for many years.
After suicide attacks by bombers with ties to the Islamic State, Turkey expanded its role in opposing it by allowing U.S. forces to use the Incirlik air base in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The addition of more efficient and effective routes for U.S. drones and fighter jets out of Turkey and into the Islamic State-held territory is exactly the kind of escalation that the Islamic State has been wary of and will make a very real impact on the battlefield.
In addition, Turkey has stepped up its own air and land operations against the Islamic State near the Turkish-Syrian border. Through cross-border shelling and bombing sorties over Syria, Turkey's involvement in Syria signals a shift in Turkey's policy of engagement with the Islamic State. Turkey also invoked the rarely-used Article 4 of the NATO charter, calling a meeting of all member countries to discuss the security situation in the region and work together towards solutions.
The recent agreement between the U.S. and Turkey to establish "safe zones" in Syria is yet another critical step in ensuring that the Islamic State does not regain ground that it has lost and in stemming the tide of terrorists in and out of Islamic State-held territory. The proposed safe zones will stretch for several miles and provide a critical buffer ensuring the Turkish border remains a solid barrier against terrorists infiltrating Turkey to attack innocent citizens in Turkey and other countries.
By working together, Turkey and the U.S. are expanding the fight against the Islamic State in an unprecedented manner. Turkey and its allies are fighting on land and in the air against the Islamic State, while providing safety for millions of refugees. This will not only make Turkey and its allies safer today; they pave the way for a more secure future for the region.
By opening up Incirlik air base, aiding the U.S. in direct strikes against the Islamic State and establishing a safe zone in Syria, Turkey is building on its already significant role in the fight to counter the scourge of the Islamic State and building a coordinated framework with its allies to increase stability in the entire region.
As a Turkish-American, I am proud of both the country where I was born and the country where I am a citizen. It is my hope that this level of cooperation will be seen as yet another example of the benefits of a strong and open U.S.-Turkish relationship.