March 18, 2015
Last month, leaders in the European Union took a big step forward in the fight against transnational terror threats. At a summit in Brussels, EU leaders unanimously voted in favor of policies including the sharing of airline passenger data, tougher border controls for travelers and the detection and removal of online content that promotes terrorism and extremism. These pledges to increase cooperation are critical if we are to confront recent atrocities, such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and the execution of a Jordanian pilot, that have shaken the international community to its core. However, more is needed beyond intra-EU cooperation. If the threat of international extremism is to be fully addressed, it is critical that this sense of cooperation extend beyond the EU to include the U.S. as well as allies throughout the conflict-ridden Middle East region and world.
Turkey is one such ally that would benefit from enhanced collaboration on anti-terrorism measures. A first-hand witness to the acts of violence unfolding just beyond its shared 730-mile border with Syria and Iraq, Turkey has long led calls for increased intelligence-sharing capacity with its European and American allies. Just this week, Turkey identified and detained 14 suspected extremists with ties to the Islamic State as they travelled through Turkey, and in early February deported a man after receiving intelligence from the French government that he intended to cross into Syria to join the Islamic State. Over the long term, these efforts have led to the creation of a watch list containing the names of over 7,000 people with ties to terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as the deportation of over 1,000 extremists and other militants since 2011. Such measures are making a real difference, but without close coordination with the lists created by the EU and the U.S., extremists with dangerous agendas will escape capture. Turkey is at the crossroads between ISIS and Europe, and Western nations must provide the logistical support and information-sharing necessary to impede extremists' ability to move outside of Syria and to plan attacks.
The U.S. itself recognizes the importance of a strong, multilateral approach in its 2015 National Security Strategy, released this February, in which it called for "targeted counterterrorism operations, collective action with responsible partners and increased efforts to prevent the growth of violent extremism and radicalization that drives increased threats." As the international community comes together to fight a new kind of enemy, this strategy is key to its success. Furthermore, Turkey is well positioned to aid in this fight. The Turkey-U.S. relationship already has numerous positive examples of cooperation on anti-terrorism measures in the past: since 2011 Turkey and the U.S. have co-chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) to help combat the rise of extremism. Additionally, Turkey takes a leading role in NATO, teaching its fellow NATO allies and select non-member states how to address various terrorism-related issues at its Center of Excellence Defense Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) in Ankara. Further, the hopes and goals that Turkey and the U.S. have for the Middle East are similarly aligned. Leaders from both countries have recently called for a comprehensive and integrated strategy to address the crisis in Syria, and both countries have expressed confidence that working to train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition, as well as a political transition in Damascus, are fundamental to a long-term solution.
While Turkey and the U.S. took important steps forward this week as they cooperate to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition fighters, there are a number of other areas where coordination can be enhanced. Turkey has requested improved access to no-fly lists and of-the-moment intelligence to better monitor the flow of people travelling to and from Syria. Additionally, Turkey has called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria in order to protect and support the Syrian opposition, which can only be enforced through the coalition of allies working together in the country. In its National Security Plan, the U.S. specifically called out its desire to "continue to transform" the bilateral relationship. On these and other matters, there is a clear opportunity to continue this transformation and become even closer strategic allies.
This is a crucial moment in the fight to achieve stability in the Middle East. It is up to experienced leaders in the battle against terrorism and violent extremism – and in particular the pragmatic collaboration embodied by the U.S. and Turkey relationship – to lead the way. The international community must share key information with countries on the front lines of the battle against extremism in order to ensure the true multilateral cooperation needed to stop violent extremists such as ISIS once and for all.
President, Turkish Heritage Organization