On May 6, while speaking at the North Atlantic Mediterranean Council, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed his country was the only NATO member to fight the Islamic State group (IS, also known by its Arabic acronym, Daesh) on the ground in Syria. While Turkey has engaged in ground operations in Syria against IS and plays an important role in maintaining one of the last opposition enclaves in Idlib, Erodgan’s comments were misleading.
Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve is the Combined Joint Task Force established by the U.S. Department of Defense to counter IS in Iraq and Syria. It includes the U.S. and a number of other NATO (including Turkey) and non-NATO member states. U.S. Special Forces and Marines have been engaged on the ground in combat against IS. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Syria this past January during a patrol near Manbij.
Local forces supported by the U.S. and Turkey, among other countries, have done most of the ground fighting in Syria. The U.S. has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), an organization Turkey adamantly opposes as an offshoot of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and other countries consider a terrorist organization. The SDF retook the former IS “capital” city of Raqqa in eastern Syria, and recently eliminated the last vestiges of the group’s “Caliphate” in Syria’s Deir-ez-Zor region.
Turkey, while it has been involved in Syria more directly and with larger forces than the U.S. and its allies, has similarly used its special forces and air force to support mostly local rebels in their campaigns against IS. Turkish action against IS on the ground began with Operation Euphrates Shield, which cleared IS from border areas such as the town of Jarablus. Turkish forces also sustained significant casualties in battles with IS for control of Al-Bab.
Turkey has deployed as many as 8,000 troops to Syria, according t to news reports at the peak of Operation Euphrates Shield. The U.S. has deployed up to approximately 4,450 Special Forces and Marines on the ground. British and possibly French special forces operatives have also been deployed in small numbers.
While Turkey’s contribution to the war against IS cannot be ignored, Erdoğan’s government has also faced criticism for its involvement in Syria. One common allegation has been that Turkey’s forces have been more involved in operations against the PYD and SDF in and around the canton of Afrin rather than against IS. Some observers have even accused Turkey of turning a blind eye to IS, which has in the past sought to eliminate the Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria.
Polygraph.info sought clarification from the Turkish president’s office on the statement, but did not receive a response.