Even as it prods Turkey to step up in the global fight against Islamic State militants, the United States is worried that Ankara might use military action to target Kurdish fighters who are the last line of defence against extremists trying to take over the Syrian border town of Kobani.
In a careful-what-you-wish-for scenario, U.S. officials acknowledge that drawing Ankara into the war could open a new line of attack against a Kurdish movement that has for decades sought greater autonomy inside Turkey.
At the same time, Americans officials fear Turkey could simply choose to remain out of the fray, and let two of its enemies the Islamic State group and Kurdish guerrillas fight for Kobani. That would give the militants an opportunity to do as much damage to the Kurdish fighters in Syria as possible.
Neither scenario is agreeable, the officials said. The issues and implications are expected to be broached delicately when U.S. envoys coordinating the international response to the Islamic State group meet on Thursday and Friday with Turkish leaders in Ankara. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the diplomatic situation by name.
For months, Turkey resisted using force against the Islamic State, which has rampaged through large amounts of territory just over its borders in Iraq and Syria. Until recently, its reluctance had been mostly excused out of security concerns for dozens of Turkish diplomats and employees who were kidnapped by the militants from the Iraqi city Mosul in June. The hostages were freed last month.
Since then, American officials have grown increasingly frustrated by Ankara’s inaction against the Islamic militants, yet simultaneously nervous about what a Turkish military response would mean for the Kurdish fighters at Kobani.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have spoken at least twice this week, and special U.S. envoy retired Marine Gen. John Allen is hoping for answers in his meetings in Ankara on how Turkey plans to join the battle.