Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is feeling bold.
To the irritation of the U.S., Turkey carried out airstrikes against U.S. allies in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. A day later, it was revealed that his government has detained more than 1,000 “opposition” figures, in an ongoing purge that has outraged Europe.
Basking in his referendum win this month, which altered the constitution to give him sweeping new powers, Erdogan appears intent on testing the limits of his opponents, and some of his allies, too.
Erdogan has taken his referendum victory as a sign that Turks are happy with his government’s crackdown following a failed military coup in July last year, which has gutted the opposition, civil society and the free press.
And the emboldened President appears to be taking this newfound confidence abroad. The airstrikes in Syria and Iraq mark an escalation by Turkey and put it in direct conflict with the US-led coalition’s mission against ISIS there.
Erdogan vows more airstrikes
Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the US’ main ally the fight against ISIS in Syria, and the Iraq-based Kurdish Peshmerga both said more than 20 of their fighters together were killed in the airstrikes Tuesday.
But Turkey’s air force claimed it was targeting members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Ankara deems a terrorist organization. Seventy people were killed in the raid, the air force said.
Turkey’s military described the strikes as a “counterterrorism” operation “within the scope of the international law” to prevent the PKK from sending “terrorists, arms, ammunition and explosives” to Turkey, according to state media.
Erdogan was unapologetic about the strikes, telling the Reuters news agency that he would not let northern Iraq’s Sinjar region become a base for PKK militants and that Turkey would continue military operations there and in northern Syria “until the last terrorist is eliminated.”
The strikes have caused a rift with the US. The two countries have in the past coordinated strikes, but their cooperation has faltered on several occasions.
“We are very concerned, deeply concerned, that Turkey conducted airstrikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS,” acting US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
“We have expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey directly.”
A senior US defense official told CNN that the US was given around an hour’s notice of the strikes by the Turkish military, adding that no US or coalition advisers were in the vicinity.
The Turkish government has been conducting a decades-long fight against the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has carried out attacks in Turkey.
Erdogan locks horns with Europe over detentions
Turkey detained 1,009 people in raids in 72 cities across the country, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a televised statement Wednesday, adding that some of them were from the country’s police force.
He said the detainees were connected to Fethullah Gulen, the reclusive cleric accused by Turkey of being behind the coup attempt.
“It is an important step for Turkish republic,” Soylu said, describing those detained as “secret imams.”
Turkey accuses Gulen of orchestrating the failed coup attempt.
Authorities have detained over 47,000 people in the country since then, in what Europe has slammed as an autocratic clampdown on civil freedoms.
The new round of detentions come as European leaders discuss relations with Turkey Wednesday.
And on Tuesday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace) placed Turkey back on a human rights watchlist, claiming the referendum was conducted on an “uneven playing field” and that Erdogan had ruled undemocratically through decrees following the attempted coup.
Erdogan dismissed the decision as “entirely political,” and in an earlier interview with CNN, he denied accusations that he had become a dictator.
He also responded with a threat to drop his country’s bid to join the EU.
Talks over Turkey’s application to join the union have continued for more than five decades and have gone nowhere.
“Why should we wait any longer? We are talking about 54 years,” Erdogan said in an interview with the Reuters news agency.
“In Europe, things have become very serious in terms of the extent of Islamophobia. The EU is closing its doors on Turkey and Turkey is not closing its doors on anybody.”
Turkey has welcomed more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world, with around 3 million now living there.
It has agreed to a people-swap deal to keep a large number of refugees from leaving its shores to EU countries, which it has used as a bargaining chip to try and win visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens.
The Turkish President said he wasn’t against a referendum on dropping the EU bid, pointing to the British vote last year to leave the union as a positive decision for the country’s future.
“They have peace of mind, they are walking towards a new future,” Erdogan said.
The President has already shown he has lost interest in the EU, suggesting his country may reintroduce the death penalty, which would automatically disqualify the country from membership.
But Erdogan does not appear to want Turkey to be solely inward looking. As he shuns the West, he is finding new allies north and east.
Turkey is a co-broker with Russia and Iran in ceasefire talks in the Syrian conflict.
Ankara’s once-troubled relationship with Moscow has been extraordinarily repaired to a large extent, despite Turkish forces shooting down a Russian warplane in 2015 and the countries’ different stances on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has said it wants Assad removed from power, while Russia is Assad’s closest and most powerful ally.
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