Joe Biden Visits Turkey in Attempt to Heal Rift on Fighting the Islamic State

US Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Turkey today to try and persuade Ankara to play a larger role in the fight against the Islamic State.

by John Beck
Nov 21 2014, 10:26pm

Image via AP/Emrah Gurel

US Vice President Joe Biden is traveling to Turkey today in an attempt to repair an increasingly strained relationship between the countries and persuade Ankara to play a larger role in the fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria.

Biden will spend 48 hours in Turkey and is scheduled to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The vice president's trip is the latest in a number of American delegations to visit Turkey after major disagreements over the countries' respective Syria strategies.

Washington would like Turkey to play a more active role in the broad anti-Islamic State coalition it assembled in Paris in September. 

Ankara has been criticized for not doing enough to stop the Islamic State — which has been able to bring weapons and fighters in, and oil out, from its Syrian territory across Turkish borders — as well for its reluctance to intervene in the group's offensive on majority Kurdish Kobane, also known as Ayn al Arab, on the Syrian-Turkish border. This is likely because the People's Protection Units (YPG) defending the city have links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group that fought for more than 30 years for greater autonomy within Turkey and is considered by authorities to be a terrorist organization.

Turkey has now tightened border controls, allowed peshmerga fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan to move across Turkish territory to reinforce the YPG in Kobane and pledged to allow moderate Syrian rebels to be trained on its territory. But the US wants more, including allowing coalition aircraft to operate from Turkish bases such as Incirlik, around 100 miles from the Syrian border.

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However Turkish President Erdogan insists that in exchange for the use of its bases, the coalition also works towards removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power and implement a no-fly zone in northern Syria. The US has repeatedly said the latter is not an option, and while it is opposed to Assad, has shown little desire to take further action against his forces, instead focussing on the Islamic State.

The split has resulted in public bickering over the past few weeks and Biden will be hoping to smooth over a split with a key regional ally.

Also today, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu met Iraq's Kurdish officials in the regional capital of Erbil, in talks which included discussion on military cooperation between the two governments.

Turkish special forces have already begun setting up a training program for peshmerga forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, the English language Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Davutoglu had previously visited the central government in Baghdad, where his Iraqi counterpart Haidar al-Abadi said during a joint press conference that Turkey had offered military assistance to Iraq.

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