Turkish leaders have presented their weekend mission to rescue dozens of troops guarding an ancient Ottoman tomb inside Syria as a military triumph. But critics see Saturday night’s hit and split operation involving 600 Turkish soldiers, tanks and warplanes as more evidence of Ankara’s readiness to coordinate with the militants of the so-called Islamic State to avoid taking a major role in the fight against the jihadists.Facing sharp criticism from opposition politicians and accusations from Damascus of “flagrant aggression” for the nighttime incursion, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu congratulated the country’s military intelligence service and the army for the mission 23 miles inside Syria. He called the operation to relieve the garrison surrounded by ISIS “extremely successful,” even though one soldiers was killed, he said, by accident.Davutoğlu, speaking at a news conference in Ankara, said the operational force had to confront “an environment of conflict bearing every kind of risk” in order to repatriate the tomb’s honor guards, as well as the remains of Süleyman Şah, the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman empire.“I want to stress that a nation can build a future only by laying a claim to its past,” the Turkish prime minister added.The neo-Ottoman government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which has bemoaned the unraveling of the Ottoman legacy and empire, considered the tomb both hallowed ground and sovereign Turkish territory, based on a treaty dating back to 1921, and had cautioned in the past that it would defend the mausoleum if ISIS or the Syrian regimedared attack the enclave.“The tomb of Süleyman Şah and the land surrounding it is our territory,” Erdoğan warned with ferocious determination back in August 2012. “We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory.”Domestic critics say the weekend relocation operation may have been a well-planned and executed operation in technical terms, but it amounts to a retreat, if not indeed a defeat. Süleyman Şah’s remains have now been repatriated to Turkey with a plan to move them to a few acres of land Turkish forces seized just 180 meters inside Syria near the town of Kobani (which the Turks refused to defend with their troops when its people were under siege).
Further alarming is what critics argue is President Erdoğan’s willingness to kowtow to ISIS to avoid a confrontation with the jihadists. Ankara has refused to join the air war and has denied the use of a NATO airbase in southern Turkey for airstrikes against the terror army.
Writing in the daily Hürriyet newspaper, influential commentator Murat Yetkin said the army operation on Saturday night should be seen as “the Turkish government’s second retreat” in the face of ISIS in the last six months.
Last fall to secure the release of 49 Turks seized in the Turkish consulate in Mosul when it fell to ISIS, Ankara cut another murky deal. U.S. and European officials say the price paid for the freedom of the Turkish hostages was the release of imprisoned ISIS militants. Turkish officials deny there was any trade, and both Erdoğan and his prime minister bristle at the accusation, but the distinctions appear to be semantic rather than substantive.
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