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Why Turkey Was Slow To Join Anti-ISIS Forces


Turkey's parliament voted this week to join in the fight against the group calling itself the Islamic State or ISIS. Now, this is a change for Turkey, which until now had offered only tacit support for the U.S.-led coalition. Daniel Dombey is the Financial Times Turkey correspondent and he joins us from Istanbul. Mr. Dombey, thanks for being with us.

DANIEL DOMBEY: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Why had Turkey been reluctant to get involved and what changed their mind now?

DOMBEY: Well, I think you have to take these things one step at a time. Turkey has a lot of reasons to be reluctant to be honest, not least because it is perhaps the single country, certainly within NATO, most at risk from ISIS. It has a 900 kilometer long border with Syria and ISIS controls large stretches of that, there are jihadi fighters who have crossed the country to and fro and there are cells of ISIS recruitment within Turkey almost certainly. All of this means that if Turkey signs up and joins the anti-ISIS coalition in a more active way, it's much more vulnerable to a counter blow, or a counterstrike, than other countries. Every country in the world you could argue has a dysfunctional Syria policy. But for Turkey, with that border, that matters more than most.

SIMON: What made them decide that on the whole it was worth the risk?

DOMBEY: Turkey has authorized the use of force, but an authorization of the use of force and the imminent use of force are not one and the same thing. Turkey already had an authorization of use of force against Syria and one against Iraq as well, but this doesn't that they're about to act. Two things have changed, I think, in the broader scheme of things. First of all, Turkey had 46 hostages who were held by ISIS until late last month. Those people have now been released and that reduces a very important source of leverage that ISIS had over Turkey. And the other thing is that we've had very, very constant pressure from the U.S. administration on Turkey. President Obama has brought this up with Turkey's President Erdogan, and Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel have both made trips to Ankara to make the same case to Erdogan themselves personally, so Turkey came under enormous pressure to do more. The question of what exactly it's going to do, however, has yet to be resolved.

SIMON: Has the besiegement of the town of Kobani, which is close to the Turkey-Syria border, concentrated the mind of Turkish officials?

DOMBEY: Absolutely. I mean, I think there's no doubt about that. You've seen 150,000 people streamed from this town. This town - you can make out the main streets, the main attacks, from the Turkish border. This is part of a Syrian war that is being played out in front of everyone - and in front of Turkey more than most. But it's also, I think, important in another sense. We are seeing at the one - the same time, Turkey authorized an authorization for the use of force, but also - and it's precisely those moments, Turkish troops and tanks sitting, watching Kobani being, step-by-step it seems, taken by ISIS and doing nothing. I wonder what's actually more relevant for the anti-ISIS coalition - the fact that this resolution's just passed, or the fact that the Turkish military is relatively inactive as ISIS storms this town.

SIMON: Daniel Dombey, speaking with us from Istanbul, the Financial Times correspondent in Turkey. Thanks very much for being with us.

DOMBEY: Thank you so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.