G20 leaders vow to fight ISIS despite differences
ISTANBUL - Meeting in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, world leaders gathered in Turkey pledged to redouble efforts to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) but carrying out that promise will be difficult as conflicting interests of key players remain.
Participants at the Group of 20 (G20) meeting of heads of state from the world’s biggest economies vowed to step up action against ISIS by improving intelligence sharing, increasing border controls and sharpening air travel security to keep militants from crossing international boundaries.
The decision came after police in Paris found evidence that one of the attackers, who killed more than 125 people in a string of shootings and bombings on November 13th, had registered as a Syrian refugee entering Greece via Turkey. Turkish officials said their security forces had warned France about one of the bombers and had foiled an ISIS attack in Istanbul that had been planned to coincide with the Paris assaults.
“We are concerned over the acute and growing flow of foreign terrorist fighters and the threat it poses for all states,” the G20 leaders said in a statement. “We are resolved to address this threat.”
Analysts said the Paris attacks showed the West’s strategy to contain ISIS in Syria and Iraq with the help of air strikes and support for local anti-ISIS militias was no longer enough.
“This is no longer a fight within the boundaries of the Middle East and Mesopotamia,” Murat Yetkin wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News. “This is no longer a fight that can be dealt with by air strikes and so-called ‘moderate’ locals on the ground with the high possibility of turning ‘radical’ as soon as they get the money and the weapons.”
US President Barack Obama said Washington would “redouble our efforts, working with other members of the coalition, to bring about a peaceful transition in Syria and to eliminate” ISIS. France reacted to the Paris bombings by increasing air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
However, experts agree that air strikes will not be enough to defeat the jihadist militia. Even after the shock of the Paris attacks, no major power offered to send ground troops to Syria to fight ISIS.
The method of encouraging local forces to increase the fight against the radicals on the ground is meeting with problems as well. The United States and Turkey disagree over whether the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia People’s Protection Units (YPG) could be a partner. While Washington regards the Kurds as allies against ISIS, Ankara is concerned that the Kurds’ real aim is to set up a Kurdish state along the Turkish border.
Cutting the flow of foreign fighters in and out of ISIS-controlled parts of Syria and Iraq is another task facing countries exposed to the threat posed by the militants. Turkey, which shares a 900-km border with Syria, says it is increasing border security and erecting fences and walls along some sections of the frontier.
Critics say Turkey is far from sealing the border for ISIS fighters, while Turkish officials complain of a lack of coordination with Western intelligence services in identifying and arresting militants.
Following the Paris attacks, Turkish officials said their country notified French police in 2014 and again in 2015 about ISIS suspect Omar Ismail Mostefai, identified as one of the Paris bombers, without hearing back from France. Only after the Paris attacks did French authorities ask Turkish counterparts if they knew anything about Mostefai, a Turkish official said, insisting on anonymity.
“The case of Omar Ismail Mostefai clearly establishes that intelligence sharing and effective communication are crucial to counterterrorism efforts,” the official said. “The Turkish government expects closer cooperation from its allies in the future.”
Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst with the Tepav think-tank in Ankara, said he did not expect the Paris bombings to usher in a new era of broad international cooperation to fight ISIS. He said the United States remained unwilling to commit ground troops, preferring air strikes “as the least risky option”. At the same time, Russia was sticking to its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, while other players such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia wanted Assad to go.
“In this chaotic environment, it is hard to see any significant change” after the Paris attacks, Ozcan said. “We will talk a lot about the Paris bombings but there won’t be a big change.”
Even short-term steps against ISIS were made difficult by unanswered questions, Ozcan said. “If you drive ISIS away from a certain area, who should replace them?” he asked.