Michael Rubin: Turkey Should Play No Part in Liberating Mosul

Displaced people from Mosul arrive in Qayyarah during an operation to attack ISIS forces in Mosul, Iraq, on October 19. Michael Rubin writes that if Turkish troops are allowed to take part in the liberation of Mosul, they won’t target ISIS, they will help key leaders escape. Alaa Al-Marjani/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

In December 2001, U.S. forces had Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora, a rugged cave complex in eastern Afghanistan not far from the Pakistani border.

Rather than tighten the noose with U.S. forces, however, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put Afghan tribal forces first. Despite what their leaders told U.S. forces, they had their own agenda and allowed bin Laden to escape.

It would be nearly another decade, a couple thousand casualties and tens of billions of dollars before U.S. forces finally caught up with bin Laden.

Fast forward nearly 15 years: U.S. forces, the Iraqi army, Shiite militias and Kurdish peshmerga are closing in on Mosul. The coalition has so far rejected Turkish army participation, something that infuriates Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "It is impossible for us to stay out of it because there lies history for us," Erdogan declared.

Let us hope that President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry remain firm. To allow Turkish forces into Mosul would be a disaster for two reasons.

Firstly, Erdogan has long played a double game with regard with regard to ISIS. While he and Turkish diplomats have condemned ISIS to fellow world leaders and diplomats, the evidence is overwhelming that Erdogan's government has supplied and supported ISIS and other radical groups like Jebhat al-Nusra.

To allow Turkish forces to participate in liberating Mosul from ISIS will be to make the Tora Bora mistake all over again. Turkish troops won't target ISIS; they will help key leaders escape.

Second, Erdogan has increasingly voiced irredentist claims. Turkish journalist Ilhan Tanir notes that in recent days, Islamist papers reflecting Erdogan's line have published maps like this, depicting Turkey extending into northern Iraq and annexing not only Mosul but also Erbil and Kirkuk while pro-Erdogan commentators circulate this. Simply put, it will be a lot harder getting Turkish forces to leave Mosul than enter it.

For Obama and Kerry, diplomatic expediency and wishful thinking often trump reality and recognition of long-term consequences. Let us hope that they hold firm on the exclusion of Turkey from the Mosul campaign.

To do otherwise will be to sow the seeds of conflict for years to come.

Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. He instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen and both pre- and post-war Iraq, and he spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His book Dancing With the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes examines a half-century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and extremist groups.