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For Turkey, Aiding In Kobani Fight Is Complicated

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now, what the battle over Kobani means for Turkey. A U.S. envoy, former Marine Gen. John Allen, is in Turkey, attempting today to drum up support for the fight against ISIS. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Istanbul. And Peter, we just heard the Syrian Kurdish leader alleging that Turkey is still allowing ISIS fighters to cross its border into Syria. Is that true?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: There's no verification of that allegation, Melissa. In the past, there have been stories about ISIS fighters showing up in Turkish hospitals. Largely, that was back when they weren't called ISIS and were fighting the Assad regime. And the fact is this border is never really sealed. Turkey is trying more than it did before, but both ISIS and Kurdish fighters could be getting across via smuggling routes that have been around for centuries. As to this particular claim that Ankara is right now taking ISIS aside in the Kobani fight, that case hasn't been made. They talk a very heated game sometime, but this Turkish leadership definitely sees ISIS as the biggest threat around.

BLOCK: Well, if that's the case, ISIS is a threat right on its border, Turkey is a NATO ally, the question comes up, why isn't Turkey doing more? Why isn't it sending in ground troops or planes, using the tanks along the border?

KENYON: It's a pretty compelling question when you see these pictures of the tanks, you know, just yards away from where the fighting is going on. But it ignores the fact that such an incursion would be a clear violation of international law, raises a number of troubling questions. Would the Turks then stop at Kobani? Would they have to go further to secure their territory? If they come back, do they have to do this every week? Do they get sucked into the wider conflict? People here are even asking, what's the difference between Turkish forces going into Syria uninvited and Russian forces moving into Ukraine?

BLOCK: When you talk to Turks, Peter, how do they view the Kurds of Kobani who've been under siege?

KENYON: Well, the Syrian Kurds are viewed with a sort of - a vaguely hostile entity. But frankly, the real suspicion has been reserved for the PKK. Those are the Kurdish militants here in Turkey and in northern Iraq. There have been battles for three decades. Tens of thousands of people have died in those fights. The animosity is very deep-rooted. Those Kurds are seeking greater territory and greater civil rights. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently compared the PKK to ISIS, which shocked a lot of people. But we have to remember, Erdogan is also the politician who launched an ambitious peace process with the PKK, much to the relief of many people here, Kurdish and Turkish alike. If that could be achieved, it would be a huge accomplishment. But that now is under threat, ironically because of what's happening in Kobani because the Kurds here are rising up against the government for not rushing to the aid of Kobani. And the tensions that are building because of that are now threatening this peace process.

BLOCK: So is there a sense of how public opinion in Turkey is shaping up about the ISIS threat and what the Turkish government should do?

KENYON: Well, the Kurds here, of course, are deeply moved by what's happening in Kobani. They want the government to move in today, yesterday, whatever it takes. Many other Turks are quite wary, just as many Americans are, about getting their forces sucked into a conflict that appears to have no end. Some ask why Turkey should be the infantry in any anti-ISIS operation. The solution, these people say, was to have properly trained Syrian rebels before they became radicalized. That didn't happen, and now there doesn't seem to be any good answers as to how to move forward.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Peter Kenyon talking with us from in Istanbul. Peter, thanks so much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.