U.S. confirms ISIS chemical weapons use against the Kurds
MilitaryTimes: U.S. military officials in Iraq have issued preliminary confirmation that Islamic State militants used mustard gas in a mortar attack on Kurdish forces in August, a Defense Department official said.
After an Aug. 11 attack that reportedly sickened dozens of Kurdish troops, the Kurds provided U.S. officials with fragments of shells that later tested positive for the presence of “HD, or what is known as sulfur mustard,” said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Killea, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
The attack occurred in the town of Makhmour in northern Iraq near the front lines of the Kurdish forces’ fight against the Islamic State, according to Killea, who briefed reporters at the Pentagon on Friday.
Killea cautioned that this was a “presumptive field test,” and further analysis is needed to possibly determine the source of the chemical weapon.
Both Iraq and Syria have in the past maintained stockpiles of chemical weapons, and U.S. officials say it is unclear whether the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has seized any of those weapons.
The HD strain of mustard is listed as a “Schedule I” chemical weapon and is strictly banned under the international treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention. When sprayed or released from artillery shells, mustard agents blister skin and can damage lungs if inhaled.
Killea said the potential confirmation of the Islamic State’s use of chemical weapons will not necessarily have any impact on U.S. policy.
“We really don’t need another reason to hunt down ISIL and kill them wherever we can and whenever we can,” he said. “Any indication of the use of a chemical warfare agent, purely from our perspective, reinforces our position that this is an abhorrent group that will kill indiscriminately without any moral or legal code or restraint.”
What is Erdogan and Turkey really doing as a NATO country…
Politico: On July 23 virtually every news outlet in the United States ran some version of the following headline: “Turkey Joins the Fight Against ISIL; Opens Air Base to Coalition Forces; Washington and Ankara Agree to Safe Zone in Syria.” The media, being what it is, dubbed Ankara’s decision to order up airstrikes on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces a “game changer,” which is what journalists say when they have nothing else to say, do not understand a situation and are itching to get back to covering Donald Trump. The only game that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is actually interested in changing is the political one that he has been uncharacteristically losing since mid-June when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the parliamentary majority it has held since November 2002. Erdogan’s military actions against the self-proclaimed Islamic State are best understood as one part a desperate, highly complex attempt by Erdogan to win back the power he lost. If his plan fails, the risky multi-front war Erdogan has just launched may become his undoing.
It’s hard to believe that Erdogan took a fresh look at what was happening in Syria and Iraq and came to the conclusion that joining the American-led fight against the Islamic State was in Turkey’s national interest. The prevailing theory among Turkey watchers instead is this: Ankara agreed to fight against the Islamic State so America would allow it to attack the Kurds (who are also at war with ISIL) and therby improve the AKP’s political prospects in parliamentary elections that will be scheduled for the fall. This may sound like Turkey geeks inside the Beltway have watched “Wag the Dog” one too many times, but the rationale and rationality of Erdogan’s moves are hard to dispute.
In exchange for granting American and coalition forces access to Turkish bases, the Obama administration stood aside as Turks renewed their fight with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—a terrorist organization that has been waging war on Turkey since the mid-1980s. The U.S. government also publicly agreed to help Ankara set up a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees in northern Syria, which makes it impossible for the Syrian Kurds to establish a territorially continuous independent canton in northern Syria. Conflict with the Kurds is very good politics for Erdogan as he seeks to shore up his nationalist base, which regards Kurds as mortal enemies. Erdogan is clearly calculating that turning up the heat on the PKK and dashing the hopes of Syrian Kurds for greater autonomy will reverse June’s electoral outcome and reproduce another parliamentary majority for the AKP by weakening Turkey’s legal Kurdish-based party, which he accuses of being an extension of the PKK.
The “Islamic State-Turkish Bases-Safe Zone-Fight the Kurds-Boost Erdogan’s Political Position” theory is not a bad one even if it seems to come perilously close to conspiracy mongering. Why else would the Turks change their position on the fight against the Islamic State? For the past year, Ankara has had a dim view of America’s strategy, which they believed was half-assed given that it did not address what Ankara considers to be the root cause of the Islamic State problem—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They were also quite rightly concerned that, unlike New York City, Istanbul is relatively close to the Islamic State and that if Turkey signed up with the United States, blood was more likely to flow in Taksim rather than Times Square. Most importantly, the Turks have been worried that the violence and instability that has enveloped Syria and Iraq has improved the prospects that Kurds in these failing states will seek independence. Those concerns fuel fears that Turkey’s 14 million Kurds will do the same. To the extent that the Islamic State and Kurds were battling each other in northern Syria and Iraq, Ankara was content to watch them damage each other.
The idea that Ankara joined Washington’s anti-Islamic State effort in order to fight the Kurds has some added weight from anonymous U.S. military sources telling the Wall Street Journal that they believe the Turks snookered the White House. The whole explanation hinges on the fact that since the media declared a “game changer,” the Turkish air force has undertaken a single airstrike on the Islamic State while attacking PKK positions in southeastern Turkey regularly. The Iraqi government has also complained of Turkish raids against Kurdish fighters in the Qandil Mountains. As with everything, there seems to be some missing context. American commanders asked the Turks to hold off until American personnel could arrive at Incirlik and everyone could sort out what was likely to become a crowded airspace. That is certainly reasonable and explains why there have been so few Turkish warheads on ISIS foreheads, but it does not alter what seems to be Turkey’s overall strategy in service of Erdogan’s unbounded ambition.
Erdogan has proven himself to be a shrewd cat over many years, but there are risks for him everywhere in this strategy. It seems entirely possible that despite spinning Turkey up on a war footing, the outcome of new parliamentary elections will be the same as those held June when voters flocked to the AKP’s nationalist competitor and the party’s religious Kurdish constituency abandoned the party in droves. The result would be exactly the opposite of what Erdogan intends, permanently compromising and marginalizing the president. It is also possible that the current skirmish with the PKK becomes a lengthier and bloodier battle. Turks will, of course, place blame on the PKK first, but as the number of body bags increases and more Turkish soldiers are laid to rest, the public may very well turn against Erdogan and the AKP. There are scattered signs that this dynamic is already underway as Turks wonder why they are suddenly at war again after a two-and-a-half year lull. Finally, even if the Turks don’t fire a shot at the Islamic State, the very fact that Ankara has opened up its bases to coalition aircraft puts Turkey in the Islamic State’s crosshairs. In response to Turkey’s decision to allow coalition aircraft to use Incirlik and other bases, the Islamic State released a video on Tuesday vowing to conquer Istanbul and calling the Turkish leader an “infidel and traitor.” If, after carefully avoiding a confrontation with the terror group for the better part of a year, Turks are killed in Ankara’s Kizilay or along Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddessi, Erdogan would most likely be held responsible for this bloodshed.
The politics of the current moment represent the biggest challenge Erdogan has faced since his leadership of the country formally began in March 2003. Almost everything that Erdogan cares about is at stake—the executive presidency he desires, the future of the AKP and his legacy of peace. It is unclear how Erdogan resolves the crosscutting political pressures to his advantage. Any move to settle one creates another problem for him. It is hard for him to go back to the well and blame the United States—he invited them in—or any of Erdogan’s favorite bogeymen that have been used so deftly in the past to deflect the government’s failures. The president has no such luxury this time given how painfully obvious the multiple threats Turkey confronts are the result of both violent terrorist groups and Erdogan’s own political machinations. It is a sign of a weakening politician desperate to reverse his slide. If Erdogan solves the puzzle, he will get his executive presidency and he will continue his vision for the transformation of the country. If he does not, Turkey is in for an extended period of instability and violence. Either way, Turks will pay a steep price.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/turkey-fighting-isil-isis-erdogan-long-game-chess-121603.html#ixzz3jTgtbg00