July 28, 2015 | Quote
Turkey Fears a Kurdish State More Than the Islamic State
After years of threatening, Turkey directly intervened in Syria on Friday, launching airstrikes against the ISIS, and finally allowed the US to use Incirlik for jet and drone attacks against ISIS. Concurrently, Turkey launched airstrikes into Iraqi Kurdistan against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Ankara is framing this as an equal-opportunities war on terrorists, but Turkey's actions over the last four years in Syria give a lot of cause for wonder as to which side Ankara is on when it comes to terrorism.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ‘zero problems with neighbours’ policy unravelled when the Syrian uprising erupted in March 2011. Not taking sides was itself a choice, and after Bashar al-Assad lied to the face of Erdogan's foreign minister about his intention to murder unarmed protesters, Erdogan decided to get rid of Assad at all costs. Erdogan bet on trying to condition a Muslim Brotherhood-led post-Assad government in Syria.
Turkish support for Ahrar al-Sham — the most extreme Syrian insurgent group, with links to Al-Qaeda and a close battlefield alliance with Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra — is hardly a secret. Turkey flatly told the Americans that it regarded Ahrar and Nusra as reconcilable elements that could form a supportable post-Assad government. Turkish support for Ahrar could be seen in the fall of the city of Idlib in March to the Jaysh al-Fateh insurgent coalition, which Ahrar effectively leads.
The most electric allegation is that Turkey supports ISIS. While ISIS's emergence in April 2013 sparked a bitter intra-jihadist feud in Syria, it had less effect on the networks — e.g. in the Balkans — bringing Salafist jihadists from all over the world to the Fertile Crescent, most of them through Turkey. This was also true for a time inside Syria. The ambiguity over ISIS's status within Al-Qaeda until its expulsion in February 2014 allowed ISIS to capitalize on streams of Salafist funding, as did the lax environment Turkey provided for such fundraisers, who were pretty openly “camped out in hotels along the southeastern Turkish frontier,” as Jonathan Schanzer, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, put it in testimony to Congress earlier this year. Funding intended for Nusra could thus, in 2013 and early 2014, easily go astray. But this could suggest confusion or benign neglect, rather than direct support from Turkey to ISIS.
When I asked Schanzer by email whether the oft-made accusation that a NATO Member State is supporting ISIS had any merit, he said: “If support is flowing to [Nusra], it is undoubtedly flowing to the other jihadi groups, too.” “Had Turkey done more to shut down its […] border with ISIS, there would be significantly fewer foreign fighters,” he added. “Had Turkey clamped down on the oil sales, antiquities smuggling, gun-running and cash transfers, ISIS would be significantly hobbled financially.” In short, ISIS is a lot stronger today than it would have been if Ankara had pursued a different policy.
Buttressing Schanzer's findings, documents recovered after the US raid into Syria in May that killed ISIS's ‘oil minister,’ Abu Sayyaf, provide the clearest evidence yet of “direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking ISIS members.” When ISIS smuggled oil from captured fields in eastern Syria, the majority went through Turkish buyers. One American official told the Guardian that even before all the data had been analysed, “the links [between ISIS and Turkey] are already so clear that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara.”
Read the full article here.