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This TSF detachment has been serving at the tomb the past 6½ months. But the situation has radically changed in the last 10 days, after the release of Turkish hostages by the Islamic State (IS), the IS assault against Kobani and clashes that broke out between IS and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) forces in the vicinity of the tomb. Since the end of July, the Turkish detachment has lost contact with local elements that had been providing it with logistics and intelligence. TSF personnel have been guarding the tomb under extremely difficult, high-risk conditions with limited electricity, water and food supplies. The Turkish news media have woken up and begun to question the safety of these 50 to 60 Turkish fighters equipped with light weapons.
Turkey's lawmakers voted Thursday to authorize military force against the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq, opening the door to cooperation with a U.S.-led coalition going after ISIS as its fighters laid siege to towns just south of the Turkish border.
The Turkish Parliament voted 298-98 to not only to let the country's military leave its borders to go after ISIS and other terror groups, but also allow foreign troops to launch operations from Turkey.
A possible threat to an ancient tomb -- located in Syria but considered a Turkish enclave -- also appeared to be a factor in Turkey's decision to approve going after ISIS. Reports had emerged that ISIS surrounded the tomb of the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed reports that ISIS had surrounded the site. But the debate in Parliament mentioned increasing security risks to the white marble mausoleum.
As part of the Treaty of Ankara in 1921, which ended the Franco-Turkish War, Turkey was allowed to keep the tomb despite its location in Syria, to place guards at it and to raise a Turkish flag over it.
There have been conflicting reports in recent days about what has happened at the tomb and its guards, with some claims emerging that ISIS fighters briefly took the guards captive. It has also been widely reported that ISIS has had the tomb surrounded for months.
So valued is the tomb said to contain the remains of Suleyman Shah -- grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire -- that Turkey deployed special forces soldiers in March when ISIS began to take villages and towns surrounding the tomb.
On 27 March 2014, recordings were released on YouTube of a conversation purportedly involving Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, and Deputy Chief of General Staff General Yaşar Güler.
The recording has been reported as being probably recorded at Davutoğlu's office at the Foreign Ministry on 13 March.Transcripts of the conversation reveal that, as well as exploring the options for Turkish forces engaging in false flag operations inside Syria, the meeting involved a discussion about using the threat to the tomb as an excuse for Turkey to intervene militarily inside Syria. Davutoğlu stated that Erdogan told him that he saw the threat to the tomb as an "opportunity."
Meanwhile, in the areas controlled by Syrian Kurds with ties to Turkey’s own Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), fighting continues with ISIL, especially around the border town of Kobane. The Kurds accuse Turkey of backing ISIL. Kurds in Syria and Turkey are concerned Turkey could now use ISIL as a pretext to intervene and squash the Syrian Kurdish experiment in autonomy. Instead of intervention, they are asking for international airstrikes on ISIL, an open border with Turkey to bring in fighters, and a supply of heavy weapons to battle the better armed ISIL.
With the crisis in Syrian-Kurdish areas boiling over and Turkey pushing for a stronger international response against the Assad regime, the leaked tapes may suggest Turkey’s motives and objectives extend beyond just defending the tomb. Its objectives may include justifying military intervention in Syrian-Kurdish areas and drawing the United States and NATO into the Turkish preference for a safe haven, buffer zone, no-fly zone and ultimately the ouster of Assad.
One potentially dangerous variable mentioned in the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies report is what the Syrian response would be, and the risk that a counterterrorism operation to protect the tomb could turn into an interstate conflict if regime forces fire on Turkey, or any part of a mission goes wrong.
While Assad has not fired on the international coalition bombing ISIL in Syria and appears to be cooperating, the regime described the passage of the Turkish military authorization bill this week as an act of aggression. It may not look the other away to Turkish intervention around the tomb. Ironically, the biggest danger might not be an ISIL attack on the tomb, but rather a Turkish response 20 miles inside a complex war environment that results in clashes with Syria. That could draw in the United States and NATO to support a member state against the regime at a time when NATO and the United States have no interest in bombing or ousting the regime, especially with the threat of ISIL continuing.