The Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized a Turkish consulate and kidnapped dozens of diplomats when it captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Wednesday. Turkey is currently negotiating for their release, but it could end up asking its fellow NATO members, including the United States, for military help. The New York Times reports:
Forty-nine Turkish citizens from the consulate — staff members and their families, including three children — were being held hostage in Mosul, the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement. Among them are diplomats, support workers and special forces soldiers. The consul general, Ozturk Yilmaz, is a former adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and an expert on the region. The consulate was raided by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the radical group that has been making sweeping territorial gains in northern and western Iraq in recent days.
Given the number of hostages and their remote location, mounting a rescue mission would be difficult. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that, “All those involved should know that if our citizens are harmed in any way, they will be the subject of harsh reprisals.”Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called President Obama this morning, but was redirected to Vice President Biden. Biden, the White House Deputy Press Secretary, and the State Department all separately issued statements condemning the kidnappings, while President Obama made a brief comment today that Iraq would need additional U.S. assistance. He didn’t say what sort of assistance that might be, and did not comment specifically on the Turkish situation.No one seems to know whether this seizure was deliberate policy on ISIS’s part, or the action of low-level operatives during the fog of war. Adding to the confusion, 31 other Turks working for a trucking company were seized by militants in what appears to be a simple kidnapping-for-ransom, although it is unclear exactly who is holding them.Precedent suggests that Turkey will be furious. Turks were outraged when U.S. soldiers briefly detained twelve Turkish Special Forces operators who were captured in civilian clothing during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Perhaps for this reason, ISIS appears to be working to appease Ankara even in the course of kidnapping its citizens: It allowed the Turkish Special Forces operatives protecting the consulate to retain their weapons, and has used Twitter to assure Turkey of its citizens’s safety. Ankara is negotiating for the release of the captives, but also issued the ominously open-ended warning that “we will do whatever is necessary”—whether by securing the hostage’s release or avenging their capture was left unsaid.These kidnappings may seem minor in comparison to the radicals’ alarmingly swift progress toward Baghdad. However, a long-running Turkish hostage crisis would be hard for the United States to duck. Turkey is a NATO member, and attacks on its diplomatic facilities and diplomats can be construed as falling under NATO’s Article 5. The United States used Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to secure NATO assistance for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. If Turkey now asks for help under Article 5, the United States would have to choose between getting more deeply involved in Iraq or turning down a NATO ally. Turkey convened an informal “informational” NATO meeting on the situation this Wednesday, but it has not yet indicated whether it will request further steps.The White House probably hopes Turkey keeps NATO out of this. The mess in Iraq is already complicated enough.