NATO vows solidarity with Turkey over ISIS threat but urges peace with Kurds

NATO declared its "strong solidarity" with Turkey on Tuesday as ambassadors gathered for a rare emergency meeting about the threat from ISIS faced by a member of the military alliance.

Turkish airstrikes targeted Kurds this week

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, above, says it is 'not possible' to continue a peace process with Kurdish militants. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)

NATO declared its "strong solidarity" with Turkey on Tuesday as ambassadors gathered for a rare emergency meeting about the threat faced by a member.

Turkey requested the extraordinary meeting to gauge the threat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group poses to Turkey, and the actions Turkish authorities are taking in response, including attacks on Kurdish rebels.

"We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against Turkey, and express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families" of victims killed in recent terrorist actions, NATO ambassadors said in a statement after the meeting.

While public statements stressed unity, a NATO official said members also used the closed-door meeting to call on Turkey not to use undue force and to continue peace efforts with representatives of the Kurdish minority. The official was not authorized to speak on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a series of cross-border strikes, Turkey has not only targeted ISIS but also Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, in Syria and Iraq.

Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty empowers member states to seek emergency consultations when they consider their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" to be in jeopardy. This was only the fifth such meeting in NATO's 66-year history.

What we all know is that Turkey is a staunch ally. Turkey has very capable armed forces — the second largest army within the alliance.- Jens Stoltenberg, NATO chief

"All allies stand in solidarity with Turkey," NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the session, which lasted a little over an hour.

Stoltenberg said the Turks did not use Tuesday's meeting to request military assistance from other NATO members.

"What we all know is that Turkey is a staunch ally. Turkey has very capable armed forces — the second largest army within the alliance," the NATO chief said.

The alliance official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Turkey's allies unanimously spoke at the meeting in favour of its "right to defend itself." One outside analyst said eliciting such support may have been why Turkey sought the unusual forum in the first place.

"I think the main purpose is to give them some reassurance in terms of their bombing campaign in Syria and northern Iraq so that they won't be accused of violating international law," said Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst and specialist on Turkey at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think-tank . "They wanted to cover their backs basically by having NATO say, 'OK it's fine."'

In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish and U.S. officials were discussing the creation of a safe zone near Turkey's border with Syria, which would be cleared of ISIS presence and turned into a secure area for Syrian refugees to return.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday before leaving for China, Erdogan also said it was impossible to advance a peace process with the Kurds as attacks on Turkey continue.

Recently, an ISIS suicide bombing near Turkey's border with Syria left 32 people dead and an IS attack on Turkish forces killed a soldier. And on Tuesday, Turkey said a soldier who was wounded in an attack along the border with Iraq has died. Turkey said the soldier was shot by a Kurdish militant in the town of Semdinli.

After months of reluctance, Turkish warplanes last week started striking militant targets in Syria and agreed to allow the U.S. to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik Air Base.

A Turkish Air Force warplane takes off from the Incirlik Air Base on the outskirts of the city of Adana, southeastern Turkey, Tuesday. (Emrah Gurel/Associated Press)

The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling ISIS and have been backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears a revival of the Kurdish insurgency in pursuit of an independent state.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has fought Turkey for autonomy for Kurds in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language living in a region spanning present-day Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.

For some NATO members and independent observers, it's unclear whether Turkey's No. 1 target is ISIS or the Kurds, said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank.

What's more, Turkish leaders "have actually been arguing that the Kurds in Syria are more of a threat to Turkey," Kearns told The Associated Press.

On Monday, Syria's main Kurdish militia and an activist group said Turkish troops shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters.

"There is no difference between PKK and Daesh," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Monday, using an Arabic acronym to refer to ISIS.

"You can't say that PKK is better because it is fighting Daesh," Cavusoglu said during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal.


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