Turkey committed to NATO despite alliance’s shirking of duties – Defence Minister Akar

Turkey continues to exhibit its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in the most meaningful ways a country can, despite the alliance having shirked its duty with regards to northern Syria, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday.

Turkey believes that NATO will be decisive in global efforts to destroy terrorism, Akar wrote in an article published on Euro News ahead of next week’s NATO summit in London.

“So, we continue our full-throated commitment to NATO, and we continue to back up that commitment financially and with the efforts of our brave troops,” the minister said.

NATO partners did not follow through on Turkey’s proposals to establish a safe zone in northern Syria along Turkey’s southern border, Akar said.

Turkey and the United States had reached an agreement in August to establish a safe zone in Syria along Turkey’s border, but Turkey expressed dissatisfaction with the agreement’s implementation and on Oct. 9 launched a military incursion into the area controlled by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.

Ankara maintains that the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main fighting force People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD) are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has fought on Turkish soil for over three decades and has been designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the UN. 

Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring into Kurdish-held Syrian territory sparked widespread criticism from its Western allies.
While Minister Akar said that Turkey took “every precaution” to “avoid impacting on the fragile humanitarian situation,” according to a UN estimate at least 180,000 people were displaced and some 200 civilians lost their lives during the nine-day-long incursion.

The operation ended after Turkey made a deal with Russia for the establishment of a 30-km deep safe zone along some 400 km of its 900 km long border, and joint patrols with Russian armed forces.

There have been comments that the operation posed evidence of Turkey rejecting NATO, Akar said, but they were “wrong-headed and a misinterpretation of the facts.” 

Due to its particular place between the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Turkey acts as “the only wall stopping terror groups along (Turkey’s) borders from travelling to Europe,” the minister said.

Turkey has been and will be safer when like-minded nations are allied, he added, but “most of (Turkey’s) allies refused to help (it) identify and pursue a solution to the very real security crisis (it) faced with the YPG.”

Meanwhile, Turkey has provided resources including the İncirlik Air Base near the country’s southern border for the international coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) to utilise during counter-terrorism operations, the minister said. 

The nuclear weapons stored in the İncirlik base have been one of the reasons for high-running tensions among NATO members, and the United States has been considering their removal

Turkey is also refusing to back a NATO defence plan for Poland and the Baltics until the alliance recognises the YPG as terrorists, in another source of tension between the allies. 

The country’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems is another issue of concern for the alliance, as the S-400s are believed to pose a risk to U.S.-made weapons and NATO systems.

Turkey’s actions have been in line with NATO principles, and it expects the alliance to serve true to its mission and ensure the safety of each ally, the minister concluded.