Wednesday was a crucial moment in the war being waged by the United States and many other countries against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Just hours before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Turkey, that country sent tanks, fighter jets and special operations forces across the border into northern Syria. They took back the border town of Jarablus from ISIS forces.
The operation, assisted by American warplanes, was Turkey’s biggest offensive against ISIS since the Syrian war began in early 2011.
Turkey’s involvement is critical. The country’s southeastern section has been a target of ISIS rocket attacks for months from inside Syria. A heinous suicide bombing killed more than 50 people at a wedding last weekend in Gaziantep. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said afterward: “This is enough. This work must be done.”
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Turkey wants to create an ISIS-free zone in northern Syria and prevent Kurdish influence from spreading there.
The U.S.-backed operation against ISIS also may help patch up relations between Turkey and America. Biden’s visit helped illustrate that fact. In a press conference he supported Turkey’s purposes in Syria. Biden said that there should be no separate Kurdish entity carved out of northern Syria and that the country should remain united.
The continuing war in Syria is a global problem for two main reasons.
It has created a large influx of immigrants to neighboring countries and to Europe. The United Nations estimates that nearly 7 million people have been displaced. Turkey hosts more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees and Jordan hosts about 1 million.
And ISIS thrives in Syria. The terrorist organization took control in cities in Syria and Iraq such as Raqqa, Fallujah and Mosul in 2014. More recently it has targeted civilians in bloody attacks in France, Brussels and Turkey.
The Syrian conflict is a complicated puzzle. The U.S. government, Turkey and European allies all are on the same side of wanting to topple the Bashar Assad government. But Russia and Iran back the regime.
While all of this is going on, however, the Western allies, Russia and Turkey fortunately have agreed that ISIS is a common enemy in Syria.
For example, U.S.-backed forces have tried to retake ISIS-controlled cities in Syria. Recently, Russian jets took off from Iran — for the first time in decades — for the same purpose.
President Barack Obama has made the defeat of ISIS a central point of his foreign policy. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have expressed the same views on the presidential campaign trail.
All of this is difficult, dangerous and deadly work. ISIS is powerful in Syria and Iraq. As this week’s bold move led by Turkey showed, coalition forces can make progress in this long-lasting battle.