Geopolitical Futures has predicted that Turkey will eventually be dragged into the Syrian conflict and that it will have to get closer to the United States, considering the problems it has experienced with Russia. After long resisting, there are signs that Turkey is willing to undertake some form of military intervention against the Islamic State. On May 19, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that his country cannot “turn its back on the region.” Three days later, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the new head of U.S. Central Command, made a surprise visit to Turkey. The trip comes two days after his unannounced visit to Syria, where he met with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. military advisers, who will be playing a key role in the planned attack on IS.
The pro-government Turkish daily Yeni Şafak reports that in his meetings with senior Turkish civil and military officials, the top American general will be asking that Turkey play a key role in an offensive against the IS capital of Raqqa. Yeni Şafak and other Turkish media such as Hürriyet report that the Turkish government is unlikely to contribute to the offensive against Raqqa. However, it is highly unlikely that the Turks will remain on the sidelines while a major offensive is taking place on their southern doorstep. The fact that the Americans are counting on the Syrian Democratic Forces to be the frontline in the ground assault on the IS core makes it even more likely that the Turks will join the fight in some form.
Kurdish separatism and IS’ presence in the country have thus far made the Turks reluctant to take a lead military role in Syria. Now, when the Americans are pressing ahead with the anti-IS offensive, Ankara has an incentive to join the effort. In fact, the Turks will want to take a lead role because it is in their interest to ensure that Kurdish separatists in Syria do not benefit from their participation in the war against IS.
The Turks also do not want to be caught off guard by any spillover into their territory from operations in Syria. The U.S. would be happy to let the Turks take the lead on the ground while it provides air support. There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out. However, one thing is clear: the Turks cannot afford to alienate the Americans at the same time that their relations with the Russians have seriously deteriorated.