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Why is Turkey reluctant to fight the Islamic State?

Islamic State militants continue to advance along the Syria-Turkey border, despite ongoing U.S. airstrikes supported by regional allies. Judy Woodruff sits down with chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner for more on Turkey’s complicated relationships to the Syrian conflict, its Kurdish population and the coalition fight against the militant group.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We reported earlier on today's reported beheading of another hostage by the Islamic State group. This comes as its terrorists continued to advance on and shell the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani, along Syria's border with Turkey.

    The militants' push is happening despite continued airstrikes by the U.S. and other anti-I.S. Coalition members.

    For more, we are joined by our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner.

    Margaret, welcome.

    We did report on this, another terrible murder of a hostage. We have just now seen a statement by the president condemning what's happened, but he's also saying these airstrikes will continue. Are they doing any good if these beheadings are also continuing?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Judy, looking on the situation on the ground both in Iraq and Syria, Iraq, they actually — they started in August. They have actually stopped the ISIS advance, but not rolled them back.

    In Syria, obviously, from the beheading video, they're not cowed. The I.S. people aren't cowed. And, secondly, this advance continues on this beleaguered Kurdish town of Kobani. And they're defended only by these Kurdish militiamen, Syrian Kurdish militiamen. They are begging for help on the ground, but for now, as the president statement suggests, the White House remains focused on long-range training of the — quote — "moderate Syrian anti-I.S. fighters" and on touting the building up or beefing up of this coalition.

    Today, they just announced that Australia and Denmark were now going to send fighter planes. But the missing piece remains Turkey, the key NATO ally right on the border. And despite a personal phone call from President Obama to President Erdogan just today, they remain the missing piece and reluctant to get engaged.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, Judy, it's complicated by two things.

    One, President Erdogan's number one target the last two years has been getting rid of Syrian President Assad. And so he has actually allowed or his government allowed safe passage and safe haven to all kind of anti-Assad fighters, starting with sort of moderate ones, but all the way up to the I.S. types.

    And, in fact, a lot of the neighbors are furious about this and say they helped create this mess. But Erdogan, I'm told, while not necessarily — while now himself wary of ISIS or I.S., ISIS, as he calls it, believes that if they weigh in against I.S., that that will only help Assad, because it will create breathing room for his forces.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Because they're the enemy.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Because they're the number one enemy.

    And since President Obama refuses to join the civil war against Assad, he's not going to go there. So, secondly, it has a complicated relationship with their own Kurds, which are an estimated 15 percent of the Turkish population.

    They have got a long-running civil war with their militant wing, the so-called PKK. Just yesterday, the jailed leader of the PKK threatened, if you don't save Kobani, we're going to cut off peace talks with you. The prime minister today promised they would do what they could to save Kobani, but so far they are not only — they're keeping PKK fighters from crossing over into Turkey. They're even stopping with water cannons and tear gas civilians who want to go over…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And just very quickly, no indication this is going to change?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, not for now.

    They are absolutely apoplectic about their situation with their own Kurds. The Kurds straddle these four different countries, not only Iraq and Syria, but Turkey and Iran. And the nightmare scenario for the Turks is that the more these Kurdish fighters work together and are emboldened, it will increase pro-independence sentiment for an independent Kurdistan either within one of these countries or perhaps a unified…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And for them, that's a bigger concern than I.S., the Islamic State?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, apparently. It's always a moving target, but, yes, for now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Margaret Warner, we thank you, as always.

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