Turkey has a very large military, easily capable of destroying ISIS. Perhaps the Russian involvement in Syria makes things more complicated, but that's relatively recent. Turkey was already spending huge amounts of money to house millions of Syrian refugees. I strongly suspect it would be cheaper for them to just stabilize Syria directly by military force, and send all those people home. So why don't they?

I'm guessing the answer has a lot to do with religion, pre-existing alliances, and balance of power in the middle east; if Turkey invades Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia might object. But that's just a guess, and I don't have any clear idea of the motivations of Turkey in this situation vis a vis the other major powers in the region.

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    This Q comes from questionable (and not backed with references) assumptions, so it can't be answered in a straightforward manner. Off the top of my mind, (1) "a very large military" is not necessarily good at fighting vs. rebels; air strikes won't "destroy"; they can only accompany ground invasion; (2) ground strike means attacker's losses; (3) invasion must be justified, no threat to Turkey yet; (4) a NATO member should agree its actions with the NATO HQ; (5) Kurds are considered a bigger threat for Turkey; (6) Turkey may not want help Assad's who has killed 10 times more civ's than ISIS Nov 1, 2015 at 4:28
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    Building on (6), Turkey and Assad-led Syria have been geopolitical rivals since long before ISIL or the Syrian Civil War existed. Nov 1, 2015 at 7:00
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    @bytebuster Assad's who has killed 10 times more civ's than ISIS Where these numbers come from? Any serious source, or simply propaganda?
    – Matt
    Nov 1, 2015 at 8:51
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    @SVilcans Ah, that same SNHR who cries for the whole month that "those creepy Russians" killed hundreds of civilians in Syria, yet never cared to prove any single word. That exactly what I mean by "simply propaganda".
    – Matt
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:18
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    There's many credible allegations that turkey has supported ISIS/ISIL/Daesh by turning a blind eye to recruitment in Turkey and allowing the passage of fighters and supplies into Syria (I'm too lazy to look up sources now else I'd turn this into an answer). Possible reasons are that ISIL fight the Kurds and Assad. Read up on the relationship Turkey - ISIL.
    – mart
    Nov 9, 2015 at 13:32

3 Answers 3


A few personal thoughts on this topic.

  • Turkish army has to go through the Kurds' lands. That seems impossible without fighting against Kurds first. And that would be both troublesome and frown upon by USA.
  • Turkey has no national interest in fighting against ISIS. They are not a threat for Turkey for a moment. Only media make people think of "good guys" and "bad guys". Politicians do think of "allies" and "enemies".
  • Today Syria appears to be a total chaos; bellum omnia contra omnes. If Turkish army invaded Syria on its own (no alliance), then in a few weeks they would fight against all sides, just as it's happening now: ISIS against SAR, ISIS against An-Nusra, An-Nusra against FSA, FSA against SAR and so on. That's simply not an option. Yet making any alliance without prior approving by "the friends from NATO" is too much even for Turkey.

Thus we have what we have now: a new normal "hybrid" war with Turkey (along with USA, Saudis etc.) supporting their sort of "green men" and "rebels", but not going straight into the battle.

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    @bytebuster (1) is obviously true and needs no further evidence. (2) and (3) would never be officially affirmed, I'm sure.
    – Matt
    Nov 1, 2015 at 10:02
  • Of course ISIS is a 'threat' to Turkey. As a matter of fact, national security is among the leading concerns in the minds of the Turkish populace these days. Nov 1, 2015 at 11:37
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    @SamparkSharma ISIS is a modern scarecrow, just as Al-Qaeda was. But if we talk exactly about ISIS, not about all the crowd of islamist radicals waving some black banners, then I see neither ISIS' anti-Turkey actions, nor Turkish government's counter-measures. That makes me think ISIS is not a threat for Turkey, no matter what they say on TV.
    – Matt
    Nov 1, 2015 at 11:52
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    I'd add that IS might currently be more useful to them than it is a threat, especially with regards to the Kurds. Nov 3, 2015 at 9:18
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    @PointlessSpike Good point. Although that was noticeable only at the time of battle of Kobani. Perhaps they have abandoned those plans now.
    – Matt
    Nov 3, 2015 at 9:40

There is a fundamental problem here. Suppose that Turkey were to be able to deal with the problems mentioned in Matt's answer and went in and defeated ISIS. Then without a political solution for Syria, the Turks would have to stay there until a political solution is reached for governing Syria that has a very strong consensus. The problem the Turks would face is that a weak coalition supporting a consensus for governing Syria that is agreed on a basis of "let's agree to disagree", is not going to survive for long. New extremist groups are then likely to arise exploiting the weakness of the divided leadership. It wouldn't take long for the situation to be back at square one.

A strong consensus that has widespread support that people are willing to defend, is unlikely to be possible in a place where a civil war has been raging for a few years.

  1. What I want to say first is nothing special to this case and is just a common understanding of a decision process in any country. Many parties in Turkey and outside of the country were involved in the decision to not fully invade the Syria and in the end the arguments against the invasion were stronger.
  2. If the decision was not to invade Syria, what was the decision? In August 2012:

    Turkish and U.S. officials on Thursday held their first “operational planning” meeting aimed at bringing about the end of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime


    This means that Turkey decided to overthrow the Syrian President.

  3. To overthrow Bashar al-Assad was obviously (for whatever reasons) more important for Turkey than to destroy ISIS.

  • Okay, so Turkey considers it worth the money they're spending on refugees if it helps them overthrow Asaad. Nov 11, 2015 at 13:11

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