CAPITOL HILL - Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants and Kurdish PKK forces is provoking mixed reactions from U.S. lawmakers.
Both a more assertive Turkish role against IS and, more particularly, Turkish permission for the United States to use Incirlik air base for airstrikes on IS targets, are welcomed by Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“Strategically, [Incirlik] is very well located,” Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) told VOA. “During most of the Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan, the Turks have not allowed us to use Incirlik, so the fact they are now considering it, I think, bodes well.”
“Clearly Turkey is exerting itself more in the region, becoming more of a player, and seeking a greater unity with NATO,” Ben Cardin (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VOA. “At the end of the day, it is going to be good news in our campaign against ISIS.
“[Incirlik] is one of our major routes into that region," Cardin added. "So having the cooperation of Turkey gives us more options.”
Tuesday, Turkey focused its airstrikes against Kurdish rebels in its own territory, while NATO pledged its “strong solidarity with Turkey” in the fight against insurgents and terrorists.
Concerns about Turkey
“Turkey’s on both sides. On the one hand, they are bombing ISIS. On the other hand, they are bombing forces that are fighting ISIS," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), using a common acronym for IS militants. "So they may have felt it necessary to help us bomb ISIS so as to justify them bombing the enemies of ISIS.”
A similar view was expressed by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).
“We’re getting mixed signals from the government of Turkey,” he said. “We have them announcing that we will be able to use Incirlik air base. I’ve been there, and I know how important that is to the security of the area. But at the same time, we see that Turkish forces are engaged in somewhat hostile activities against Kurdish forces that are battling the radical Islamists. So we need them to make a decision: are they going to go with us, or are they going to go with the radical Muslims that want to destroy Western civilization?
“I am really concerned that we’ve got the schizophrenic message from the Turkish government,” Rohrabacher added. “What they need to do for their own benefit is have reconciliation between their own Kurdish population and the rest of their government.”
Senator Cardin described the historic tensions between Turks and Kurds as “a complicated situation.” But he expressed hope for an emerging “common agenda” between Ankara and Kurdish forces: the fight against IS.
“The Kurdish population and Turkey have a mutual interest in fighting the extremists and maintaining stability in the region,” Cardin said.