SANLIURFA, Turkey — Turkey’s parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly endorsed a measure authorizing military intervention in Iraq and Syria and permitting foreign troops to launch attacks from Turkish territory, potentially setting the stage for a deeper level of involvement by Ankara in the international war against the radical Islamic State group.
It was not immediately clear, however, how far Turkey is prepared to go to support the military effort against the Islamic State, a heavily armed al-Qaeda offshoot also known as ISIS or ISIL. The effort risks further complicating Turkey’s already tangled relationships with its own restive Kurdish population, the million or more Syrian refugees in Turkey and even the extremists themselves.
Turkish officials said they expect no immediate change to Turkey’s existing policy of facilitating humanitarian efforts to aid needy Syrians inside and outside Syria and supporting moderate Syrian rebels battling the Damascus government.
“I don’t think there will be any imminent action,” said a Turkish official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The authorization, passed on a vote of 298 to 98, came amid mounting calls for a reluctant Turkey to assume a more active role in a U.S.-led coalition formed to confront the Islamic State. Rapid advances by the group’s forces toward the Syrian-Kurdish border town of Kobane in the hours before the vote further escalated the pressure.
A Turkish analyst familiar with the thinking of Turkish officials said, however, that while the government recognizes that the Islamic State is a growing threat to its security, it is in no mood to rush to support a war that does not include as its goal the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Turkey is going to do the bare minimum to get America off its back,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity since he was describing confidential information. “But not so much that it will align Turkey in what will be seen as a Western coalition formed not to fight Assad — as Turkey has wanted for a long time — but to fight what Turkey regards as misguided Islamic youths.”
Turkey’s absence from the fight has become increasingly conspicuous as Islamic State fighters bear down on Kobane and the United States steps up airstrikes elsewhere in Syria, with which Turkey shares a long border. Turkey’s reluctance was initially explained away by the need to protect the safety of 49 Turkish diplomats and family members kidnapped in Iraq by the Islamic State.
But the release of the hostages last month has so far brought about little more than an increase in Turkish rhetoric against the Islamic State, said Aaron Stein, an associate fellow with the London-based Royal United Services Institute.
“There’s not much new coming out of Turkey, but it’s being advertised as something new, perhaps because they’ve been beaten up so badly for their ISIS policy,” he said.
The Obama administration has exerted intense pressure on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow the United States to use its existing base at Incirlik to launch attacks against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, but Ankara has given no indication it is willing to agree.
Rather, Turkish officials have talked in vague terms about intervening unilaterally along the border to set up safe zones for civilians, a proposal that U.S. officials do not support.
Kurdish leaders, meanwhile, have issued urgent appeals to Turkey and the United States to protect Kobane. By nightfall on Thursday, Islamic State fighters had reached the outskirts of the town.
“It is very dangerous, and Kobane could be lost at any time,” said Ibrahim Kader, an activist monitoring the fighting from just across the border.
The militants’ advance is unfolding in full view of the Turkish military, which has rushed reinforcements to the area but has not attempted to intervene. There have also been few U.S. airstrikes in the area, in contrast to the intensity of attacks unleashed when America’s Kurdish allies in Iraq were under threat from the Islamic State.
U.S. warplanes have struck Islamic State positions around Kobane on only two occasions since the militant offensive began two weeks ago, Kader said.
“No one is helping us, and I don’t know why,” he said.
One reason, analysts said, is that Turkey continues to regard the Kurdish forces fighting the militants at least as an equal threat to that posed by the Islamic State.
While Iraq’s Kurds are closely allied to both Ankara and Washington, the Syrian Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Syria are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which until recently had waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the United States.
The wording of the resolution passed by parliament suggests that Ankara has been motivated to act as much by the threat posed by Kurds through the upheaval in Syria as by the Islamic State. It authorizes the Turkish military to take action “to defeat attacks directed toward our country from all terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.”
“The terrorist elements of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party still exist in northern Iraq. On the other hand, the significant increase in the number of other terrorist elements in Syria and the threat posed by them in Iraq is also alarming,” the resolution said.
An imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, further complicated Turkey’s dilemma Thursday by warning of a possible revival of the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey if Kobane is allowed to fall.
“I urge everyone in Turkey who does not want the process and the democracy voyage to collapse to take responsibility in Kobane,” Ocalan said in a statement issued from his cell.
The Kurdish problem is not Turkey’s only concern, however. Erdogan has closely entwined Turkey’s fortunes with those of the Syrian opposition, aggressively promoting efforts to topple Assad and giving Syria’s rebels free rein to operate across Turkey’s border.
Ankara has long felt let down by Washington’s earlier failures to fulfill promises to act more aggressively to remove Assad and is not interested in cooperating now with a policy that many fear may serve to strengthen Assad’s hold on power, said Stein, the analyst.
Erdogan spelled out Turkey’s concern in comments to parliament Wednesday, warning that “tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger” in Iraq as well as Syria.
“We will continue to prioritize our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all citizens,” he said.