- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is meeting Monday with Turkey’s top politicians and its senior military leader to discuss forming a regional coalition to battle the Islamic State group.

During his first official visit to Turkey, Mr. Hagel is expected to urge officials, including Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayip Erdogan, to have their country play a key role in the regional component of an international plan to combat the militant group, U.S. officials said.

“Secretary Hagel has long-standing relationships with Turkey’s leaders, including the newly inaugurated President Erdogan, and he views this visit as an important opportunity to advance our critical relationship,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Turkey, however, is wary of how its actions might impact dozens of Turkish hostages being held by the Islamic State, said Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University.

“The Turks have their hands tied behind their backs because they have 49 hostages in Mosul that the Islamic State holds and, from what my understanding is, they have split those hostages and are using them, actually, as human shields,” Mr. Barkey said.

The NATO ally has made clear that U.S. military aircraft have not been using Turkish facilities as bases for their humanitarian aid missions or airstrikes in Iraq, Mr. Barkey said.

That may pose a problem for the Pentagon, which views Turkey’s presence among coalition members as paramount “because they bring so much to the table,” said a U.S. official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Part of the groundwork for persuading Turkey to contribute to a regional coalition to combat the Islamic State was laid out in the days leading up to the Monday meeting.

On Friday, Mr. Hagel and Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with key allies during last week’s NATO summit on building a broad, international coalition against the Islamic State group.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that the head of the Arab League appealed to its member states to confront “militarily and politically” the Islamic State insurgents, even as the U.S. launched more airstrikes against the group’s fighters in Iraq.

President Obama had a one-on-one conversation with Mr. Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit, said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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