Should the U.S. sell Turkey weapons to use against the PKK?
by Soner Cagaptay
CNN Global Public Square
October 29, 2011
CNN's Security Clearance blog reported yesterday that according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Obama administration may transfer combat helicopters from existing Marine inventory to Turkey.
"The DSCA has formally notified Congress of a possible sale of AH-1W Super Cobra Attack helicopters to Turkey. The notification was required under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. Turkey's ongoing fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, is one of the reasons for the proposed sale a State Department official told CNN."
This arms sale has led some to ask: Could this come back to haunt the United States, leading the PKK to carry out terrorist attacks against American targets?
Turkey expert Soner Cagaptay, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-author of Regenerating the U.S.-Turkey Partnership says "not a chance." He argues:
"First of all, this external focus is missing from the group's ideology. The PKK is a terror group established during the Cold War with the aim of fulfilling a nationalist dream. In other words, it is very much like ETA in Spain, and not at all like al Qaeda in the Middle East. The group's raison d'etre is not jihadism, but virulent and violent nationalism."
"What is more, it would be a suicidal act for the group to target the United States. PKK attacks on American interests would unleash U.S. fury against this already weakened group that could result in its annihilation. The PKK's major bases are in northern Iraq controlled by the Iraqi Kurds who are America's friends. Iraqi Kurdish action against the PKK, supported by the United States, would be the PKK's death knoll, and the group knows this well."
Selling weapons to Turkey and helping Ankara pacify the PKK is a rare case in which Washington can have its cake and eat it. Soner Cagaptay believes this sale is good for the United States because:
"Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Turkey has emerged as America's key ally in the Middle East. Turkey fiercely opposes Syria's brutal crackdown and this angers Damascus as well as Bashar al-Assad's patron, Iran. In retaliation, as I explain in the post Why Syria and Iran are becoming Turkey's enemies, again, Syria and Iran have started encouraging the PKK to attack Turkey. In other words, a proxy war is taking place in the Middle East: Turkey and the United States are lined up against Iran and Syria, which hope to use the PKK attacks to change Turkey's policy."
"If the PKK is successful in hurting Turkey, then Ankara will stop confronting the Assad regime and Tehran. The United States needs to help Turkey become more effective against the PKK. In this regard, news that the White House is considering to give Ankara helicopters, an effective counter-terrorism tool across mountainous terrain, is most welcome."
These are Soner Cagaptay's thoughts. We'll have more perspectives in the coming days. What do you think?
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