Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money

3300795117Center for Security Policy, by John Cordero, Oct. 6, 2015:

As Vladimir Putin orders airstrikes against rebels of all stripes fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, there are important strategic economic goals behind Russia’s actions in Syria.  The short term goal is easy to discern: prevent Assad’s collapse as no alternative suitable to Russian interests exists, preserve Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East at Tartus, and promote Russia both at home and abroad as a world power that counterbalances American hegemony.

Much of the media has focused on Putin as a personal driver of Russian behavior.  While forays into Georgia and Ukraine have accomplished the tactical goals of preventing increased European Union presence in Russia’s sphere of influence, these have come at a high cost both politically and economically in the form of isolation and sanctions. Putin seems to have concluded that intervening in Syria in the name of fighting terrorism can only help repair Russia’s battered image.

It is important to at least try to understand Putin’s motivation without delving too much into psychoanalysis.  He is on record as lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”  In power since 2000, the former KGB officer is an ardent Russian nationalist, a promoter of a personality cult concerned with his country’s standing and perception in the world.  With his career spent in the service of the state, he is not one to take a background role in world affairs. Putin has effectively used Russia’s alliance with Iran as an effective tool to undermine the US, both regionally in the Gulf and globally with the nuclear deal.

The current buildup at Tartus and Latakia is nothing new: since Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power in 1970, the Former Soviet Union and then Russia was and is a stalwart ally, long attempting to position Syria as a counterbalance to American and Israeli military superiority in the Middle East.

Russia’s actions are also a message to the world: unlike the US, which abandoned long-time ally Hosni Mubarak during his time of need in Egypt, Russia is prepared to intervene, militarily if necessary, to preserve a friendly regime in danger.  Therefore, it pays for autocrats to court Moscow, especially if they possess valuable resources or are in prime strategic locations.

While Vladimir Putin ostensibly espouses the acceptable goal of a global alliance against IS, the strategic context is that he has entered into a sectarian alliance with Shia Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the proxy army Hezbollah (The P4+1) against the American-backed Sunni alliance of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the UAE, all of whom insist that Assad has no future in Syria.

Through its airstrikes, Russia continues to advance the prior Syrian strategy of focusing efforts against pro-Western rebels, with the recognition that, while dangerous, the Islamic State is the one party in the conflict the West will never support.

The Islamic State will take advantage of both the respite, and the propaganda value of being the recognized number one enemy of the infidel coalition, which it uses to rally supporters simply by pointing out that its enemies are gathering to destroy the renewed Caliphate.

The one strategic motivation for Russia that has been widely ignored is the economic one.  Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita and also owner of the world’s largest natural gas field, proposed in 2009 to jointly construct a gas pipeline running through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and into Europe.  Assad, not wanting to provoke Moscow, refused to sign on.  Instead, he floated an alternative: an Iran-Iraq-Syria and possibly Lebanon pipeline, to then follow under the Mediterranean to Europe. The Qatar-Turkey pipeline would run through majority Sunni countries with the exception of Syria’s Alawite regime. Assad’s counter proposal follows the Shia crescent.

Russia, not wanting to lose its primary market in Europe, is adamantly opposed to a prospective Qatari project.  A military presence in Syria will guarantee that even if Assad is removed from power, the pipeline will not be built.  It will look on favorably to the Iranian proposal, provided Gazprom and other state-owned companies get their share of the pie.

Pipeline politics in the region have a long and varied history of Russian involvement.  TheBaku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was built only after Moscow’s demand for an alternative pipeline for Azeri oil to Russia was met.  During the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, US intelligence officials determined that an explosion on the pipeline near the Turkish-Georgian border was carried out via Russian government cyber warfare.  Days after the explosion, Russian fighter jets bombed positions in Georgia close to the pipeline. Although the BTC pipeline was built precisely to avoid Russian interference, the Kremlin has never let that stop them.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have also begun construction on a joint natural gas pipeline, theTANAP. This project’s stated goal is to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas, a prospect that cannot please Moscow.   Both the BTC and TANAP bypass Armenia, a Russian ally and wary of its neighbors in the Caucasus.

As the endpoint for the Qatari project, Turkey is adamant in calling for Assad to step down or be removed, which dovetails with the proposed Sunni pipeline.  By clearing the way through Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can receive a handsome return on their investment in backing jihadis fighting Assad.  On the other hand, Iran will not sit idly by and leave potential billions of dollars in the hands of its ideological and regional enemies.

Russian intervention in Syria is just beginning. There is every possibility that it will expand as more targets are found, perhaps those that are in the way of the proposed Iranian pipeline, directly threatening Damascus and by extension, the Russian monopoly of gas exports to Europe.  For the time being, Putin has the world’s attention.


EXCLUSIVE: Russian jets ‘intercept’ US predator drones over Syria, officials say

Also see:

Middle East Provocations and Predictions

by Daniel Pipes
Mackenzie Institute
September 9, 2015

The Middle East stands out as the world’s most volatile, combustible, and troubled region; not coincidentally, it also inspires the most intense policy debates – think of the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Iran deal. The following tour d’horizon offers interpretations and speculations on Iran, ISIS, Syria-Iraq, the Kurds, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Islamism, then concludes with some thoughts on policy choices. My one-sentence conclusion: some good news lies under the onslaught of misunderstandings, mistakes, and misery.


Iran is Topic No. 1 these days, especially since the nuclear deal the six great powers reached with its rulers in Vienna on July 14. The “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” seeks to bring Tehran in from the cold, ending decades of hostility and inducing Iran to become a more normal state. In itself, this is an entirely worthy endeavor.

The problem lies in the execution, which has been execrable, rewarding an aggressive government with legitimacy and additional funding, not requiring serious safeguards on its nuclear arms program, and permitting that program in about a decade. The annals of diplomacy have never witnessed a comparable capitulation by great powers to an isolated, weak state.

The Iranian leadership has an apocalyptic mindset and preoccupation with the end of days that does not apply to the North Koreans, Stalin, Mao, the Pakistanis or anyone else. Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i et al. have reason to use these weapons for reasons outside of the normal military concerns – to bring on the end of the world. This makes it especially urgent to stop them.

Ali Khamene'i (r) is often placed along side Ayatollah Khomeini in Iranian iconography.

Ali Khamene’i (r) is often placed along side Ayatollah Khomeini in Iranian iconography.

Economic sanctions, however, amount to a sideshow, even a distraction. The Iranian government compares to the North Korean in its absolute devotion to building these weapons and its readiness to do whatever it takes, whether mass starvation or some other calamity, to achieve them. Therefore, no matter how severely applied, the sanctions only make life more difficult for the Iranian leadership without actually stopping the nuclear buildup.

The only way to stop the buildup is through the use of force. I hope the Israeli government – the only one left that might take action – will undertake this dangerous and thankless job. It can do so through aerial bombardment, special operations, or nuclear weapons, with option #2 both the most attractive and the most difficult.

If the Israelis do not stop the bomb, a nuclear device in the hands of the mullahs will have terrifying consequences for the Middle East and beyond, including North America, where a devastating electromagnetic pulse attack must be considered possible.

To the contrary, if the Iranians do not deploy their new weapons, it is just possible that the increased contact with the outside world and the disruption caused by inconsistent Western policies will work to undermine the regime.


The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (aka ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh) is the topic that consumes the most attention other than Iran. I agree with Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, that Iran is a thousand times more dangerous than ISIS. But ISIS is also a thousand times more interesting. Plus, the Obama administration finds it a useful bogeyman to justify working with Tehran.

Emerging out of almost nowhere, the group has taken Islamic nostalgia to an unimagined extreme. The Saudis, the ayatollahs, the Taliban, Boko Haram, and Shabaab each imposed its version of a medieval order. But ISIS went further, replicating as best it can a seventh-century Islamic environment, down to such specifics as public beheading and enslavement.

This effort has provoked two opposite responses among Muslims. One is favorable, as manifested by Muslims coming from Tunisia and the West, attracted moth-like to an incandescently pure vision of Islam. The other, more important, response is negative. The great majority of Muslims, not to speak of non-Muslims, are alienated by the violent and flamboyant ISIS phenomenon. In the long term, ISIS will harm the Islamist movement (the one aspiring to apply Islamic law in its entirety) and even Islam itself, as Muslims in large numbers abominate ISIS.

One thing about ISIS will likely last, however: the notion of the caliphate. The last caliph who actually gave orders ruled in the 940s. That’s the 940s, not the 1940s, over a thousand years ago. The reappearance of an executive caliph after centuries of figurehead caliphs has prompted considerable excitement among Islamists. In Western terms, it’s like someone reviving the Roman Empire with a piece of territory in Europe; that would get everybody’s attention. I predict the caliphate will have a lasting and negative impact.

Syria, Iraq, and the Kurds

In certain circles, Syria and Iraq have come to be known as Suraqiya, joining their names together as the border has collapsed and they have each simultaneously been divided into three main regions: a Shiite-oriented central government, a Sunni Arab rebellion, and a Kurdish part that wants out.

This is a positive development; there’s nothing sacred about the British-French Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 which created these two polities. Quite the contrary, that accord has proven an abject failure; conjure up the names of Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein to remember why. These miserable states exist for the benefit of their monstrous leaders who proceed to murder their own subjects. So, let them fracture into threes, improving matters for the locals and the outside world.

As Turkish-backed Sunni jihadis fight Iranian-backed Shi’i jihadis in Suraqiya, the West should stand back from the fighting. Neither side deserves support; this is not our fight. Indeed, these two evil forces at each others’ throats means they have less opportunity to aggress on the rest of the world. If we do wish to help, it should be directed first to the many victims of the civil war; if we want to be strategic, help the losing side (so neither side wins).

As for the massive flow of refugees from Syria: Western governments should not take in large numbers but instead pressure Saudi Arabia and other rich Middle Eastern states to offer sanctuary. Why should the Saudis be exempt from the refugee flow, especially when their country has many advantages over, say, Sweden: linguistic, cultural, and religious compatibility, as well as proximity and a similar climate.

The rapid emergence of a Kurdish polity in Iraq, followed by one in Syria, as well as a new assertiveness in Turkey and rumblings in Iran are a positive sign. Kurds have proven themselves to be responsible in a way that none of their neighbors have. I say this as someone who, 25 years ago, opposed Kurdish autonomy. Let us help the Kurds who are as close to an ally as we have in the Muslim Middle East. Not just separate Kurdish units should come into existence but also a unified Kurdistan made up from parts of all four countries. That this harms the territorial integrity of those states does not present a problem, as not one of them works well as presently constituted.

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Turkey: America’s Really Bad “Faustian Bargain”

Gatestone Institute, by Burak Bekdil, September 8, 2015:

  • Turkey cannot fight the Islamic State (IS) and the Kurds, who are the essential ground force of any coalition campaign against IS, at the same time forever.
  • “…America’s deal with Turkey will prove to be a Faustian bargain. Short-term operational convenience is not worth the long-term danger of destabilizing Turkey and demoralizing the Kurdish forces that have carried the bulk of the burden in fighting militants.” — Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Ankara and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.

Many people believed that the Turks and their Kurdish compatriots were close to a historic handshake when, in 2013, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish separatist movement, Abdullah Ocalan, declared a farewell to arms after a three-decade-long violent campaign that had left nearly 40,000 dead — Turks and Kurds. The Turkish government would grant broader political rights to its restive Kurds, who demand regional autonomy. In return, the Kurds would conduct politics peacefully instead of seeking their rights with rifles in their hands.

Slightly more than two years later, Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast is seeing the same bloodshed it saw before the 2013 truce. On July 20, a suicide bomber belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Islamic State, or IS) murdered more than 30 pro-Kurdish activists in a small Turkish town bordering Syria. Before that, another IS operative detonated a bomb at a Kurdish political rally in Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkey’s Kurds, killing four people and injuring over 200.

The scene of the suicide bombing in Suruc, Turkey. An ISIS suicide bomber murdered 32 people and wounded more than 100 others in a July 20 attack on Kurdish humanitarian activists. (Image source: VOA video screenshot)

The jihadist attacks on Kurds ignited a new spiral of violence from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the notorious armed wing of the Kurdish political movement. An autonomous PKK cell killed two Turkish police officers at their home during their sleep. In retaliation, Turkey has since been pounding PKK strongholds in northern Iraq.

Between June 1 and August 29 of this year, a total of 129 people (over 50 civilians) were killed in clashes, and 526 were injured. Those numbers must be higher by now, as every new day adds to the death toll of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. The number of casualties does not include the nearly 1,000 PKK militants the Turkish military claims it has killed in ongoing air strikes since late July. The combined Turkish-Kurdish death toll should now be close to 1,500.

This is a very Middle Eastern war; not so easy to read for the Western eye:

  • Turkey is fighting the Kurds at home and in Iraq; but it also has friendly economic ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, which has been trying to perform a balancing act between Turkey and their more radical brethren, the PKK.
  • Turkey recently joined the allied campaign against IS. So, Turkey is fighting IS and, at the same time, its regional nemesis, the Syrian Kurds.
  • The Kurds are fighting both Turkey and IS, Turkey’s declared enemy.
  • Turkey is a NATO ally and a partner of the U.S.-led war on IS, but is also fighting the Kurds.
  • The Kurds are the only “[proxy] U.S. boots on the ground in the fight against IS.”

Too complicated? Just Middle Eastern. And note that the “friend-and-foe” tableaux here are only a microcosm of the much more complex and broader affairs in this part of the world.

One thing, however, looks like a near certainty. Turkey cannot fight IS and Kurds, the essential ground force of any coalition campaign against IS, at the same time forever.

The Turkish campaign against the PKK sounds as if it is an air force bombing allied ground troops.

Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Ankara and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (2005-2009), put it realistically in a recent article in the New York Times:

“…America’s deal with Turkey will prove to be a Faustian bargain. Short-term operational convenience is not worth the long-term danger of destabilizing Turkey and demoralizing the Kurdish forces that have carried the bulk of the burden in fighting militants.

“An ally racked by violence and insurgency simply can’t play the role that the United States needs a secular, democratic Turkey to play in the turbulent Middle East.

“Fortunately, America does have leverage. Turkish officials desperately crave the approval of their counterparts in Washington; the United States must not grant it.

“Instead, the Obama administration should restrict Turkey’s access to senior-level meetings, reduce intelligence cooperation and withhold American support for Turkey in international financial institutions in the likely event that Mr. Erdogan’s policies precipitate an economic crisis.

“Getting Turkish leaders to change course will be extremely difficult, but it is imperative to pressure them if Turkey is to avoid being sucked into the vortex created by a failed Syria policy and Mr. Erdogan’s dogged quest for absolute political power.”

Edelman is right. Turkish President Erdogan’s dogged quest for absolute political power is not just poisoning Turkey but also its allies and their fight against Islamist extremism.

Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Also see:

The Politicization of Intelligence

politicization-intelligenceThe Gorka Briefing, By Sebastian Gorka, Aug. 31, 2012:

Intelligence analysis that contradicts the “ISIS is Losing” narrative is ignored by the chain of command. I discuss the issue of politically-driven censorship on the John Batchelor radio show. 28 August 2015; 9 minutes. Audio HERE.


Spies: Obama’s Brass Pressured Us to Downplay ISIS Threat (Daily Beast)
U.S. intelligence analysts keep saying that the American-led campaign against ISIS isn’t going so well. Their bosses keep telling them to think again about those conclusions.

Senior military and intelligence officials have inappropriately pressured U.S. terrorism analysts to alter their assessments about the strength of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, three sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast.

Analysts have been pushed to portray the group as weaker than the analysts believe it actually is, according to these sources, and to paint an overly rosy picture about how well the U.S.-led effort to defeat the group is going.

Reports that have been deemed too pessimistic about the efficacy of the American-led campaign, or that have questioned whether a U.S.-trained Iraqi military can ultimately defeat ISIS, have been sent back down through the chain of command or haven’t been shared with senior policymakers, several analysts alleged.In other instances, authors of such reports said they understood that their conclusions should fall within a certain spectrum.

As a result, they self-censored their own views, they said, because they felt pressure to not reach conclusions far outside what those above them apparently believed.

“The phrase I use is the politicization of the intelligence community,” retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast when describing what he sees as a concerted push in government over the past several months to find information that tells a preferred story about efforts to defeat ISIS and other extremist groups, including al Qaeda. “That’s here. And it’s dangerous,” Flynn said. . . (read the rest)


Is your government lying to you about the war against ISIS? by Lt Col Rick Francona

I thought we had put this issue to rest after the inflated body counts of Vietnam. Quite possibly the Obama Administration is playing a variation of that same alternate reality game. Virtually every assessment and announcement from either the White House or the Pentagon has told us that the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is going well and that the terrorist army of the self-proclaimed Islamic State is on the defensive.

As a military analyst for CNN, I follow the fighting in Iraq and Syria closely – I monitor a variety of media from all sides. That includes not only the American press, but official Syrian, Iraqi and yes, ISIS reporting, as well as a variety of social media sites that cover all aspects of the situation in the region.

As you can imagine, there are great discrepancies in the descriptions of the same events. At times, I have shaken my head at some of the pronouncements from the Pentagon press office and even from the U.S. Central Command, the combatant command conducting the military operations.

Normally the CENTCOM reports are factual accounts of sorties flown, weapons employed and damage assessments. On the other hand, Pentagon spokesmen tend to portray the Operation Inherent Resolve as stopping ISIS’s advances and forcing them into a defensive posture. There was certainly a disconnect in the reports of low sortie rates and just a few weapons actually being employed emanating from the theater versus the rosy portrayal coming out of the Pentagon.

I remember the reports of the “success” of the Iraqi Army in ejecting ISIS from the city of Tikrit, when most of the actual fighting was done by Iranian-trained and led Shi’a militias. As the Pentagon assured us that ISIS was now contained, the Islamists mounted a successful assault on the city of al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, located on the Euphrates River just 65 miles from Baghdad – all the while under attack from the air. This hardly fits the definition of “on the defensive.”

Obviously there is a problem here – either the intelligence community can’t figure out what is going on with ISIS or someone is misleading the public. Having spent a career in the intelligence business – most of it in the Middle East – I am opting for the latter.

In any case, the Department of Defense inspector general (IG) has opened an investigation. Unfortunately, from the wording of the available reporting it appears that the focus is going to be on professional military officers at CENTCOM rather than the political appointees (that means dyed-in-the-wool Obama supporters) at the Pentagon. Guess who is going to be thrown under the bus….

It is obvious that someone is taking the intelligence reporting and putting the best face on it. Actually, that is too kind – someone is cooking the intelligence to make it fit into the narrative dictated by the White House and the political leadership at the Pentagon.

The anemic air campaign – just 20 strikes today – is having an effect, to be sure, but the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that ISIS is about as strong and capable today as it was when the air campaign began over a year ago. Much of that is due to the easy access to Syria via Turkey for supplies and the thousands of volunteers wishing to join ISIS. Hopefully Turkey’s recent decision to participate in the U.S.-led coalition will staunch that flow.

I suspect that at each intermediate echelon between CENTCOM’s forward headquarters in Qatar and the Pentagon, the intelligence and operational assessments of the military campaign against ISIS change slightly for the better. Everyone wants to cast the operation in a favorable light – accentuate the positive, downplay the negative. When it gets to the politicos at the Pentagon, I suspect it is tailored to fit the narrative emanating from the White House press room.

I applaud the Defense Department’s decision to launch an IG investigation – it is easily warranted. The IG is supposed to be an independent investigative agency that deals in facts and lets the evidence guide the investigation. Pardon me if I am not filled with confidence – some colonel at CENTCOM will take the fall.

Is our government lying to us? I fear that it is.

Explosive accusations against Turkey are exposing a major problem for Obama

REUTERS/Jason Reed

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Business Insider, by NATASHA BERTRAND AND MICHAEL B KELLEY, Aug. 25, 2015:

US-trained rebels allege that Turkish intelligence tipped off Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front and orchestrated the kidnapping of US-trained rebels entering Syria, Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy reports.

Though experts immediately advised skepticism of the accusations, the situation typifies the contradictory priorities in the faltering partnership between the US and Turkey against ISIS in Syria.

“All of this speaks to a bigger issue of how Turkey is perceived to have been nurturing the Islamist side of the Syrian insurgency at the expense of Syrian nationalists,” Aaron Stein, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider.

The US began training a small group of Syrian rebels known as the New Syria Force, or NSF, in early May, on the condition that they focus solely on combating ISIS while refraining from going after forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his allies.

The program was intended to graduate as many as 2,000 moderate Syrian opposition forces, but only 54 have completed the program so far. In July, the Pentagon’s sent the first NSF graduates, known as Division 30, into Syria to fight ISIS.

The initiative failed spectacularly when the group was attacked by al-Nusra Front, the branch of Al Qaeda operating in Syria, immediately after it entered the country. The Division 30 Syria headquarters was subsequently bombed by Assad’s warplanes.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

The US-backed rebels now claim that Turkish intelligence leaked information about the NSF’s arrival plans in Syria to al-Nusra. And a Turkish official told McClatchy that the leak would humiliate the Obama administration and push the US to go after both ISIS and Assad’s regime.

But some analysts quickly noted that a leak wasn’t necessary.

“The group itself had advertised its entry into Syria on social media, and it was well known that they were entering through Turkey,” Stein said.

Nevertheless, the accusations underscore Turkey’s alliances with rebel groups — specifically Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra — that the US opposes.

A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

A member of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

“Our research has long pointed to a closer Turkish relationship to Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra than to IS. In that sense, this is not surprising,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider by email.

Stein has previously written about how Turkey “eventually reached out directly to al-Nusra, believing that the rebel group would be useful in achieving its ultimate goal: the overthrow of Assad.”

“Turkey also believed that it could potentially moderate the group and that al-Nusra would be good to work with as a ‘Syrian group’ fighting against the regime for the future of all Syrians,” he added.

The country has even closer ties to Ahrar, which is one of Syria’s largest rebel groups and the one with the most Turkish citizens. And although Ahrar is linked to Nusra, its stated political project is focused on toppling the Assad regime and establishing an Islamic state in Syria.

Read more 


FDD VP for Research Jonathan Schanzer discusses Turkey and the growing threat from ISIS. – The John Batchelor Show (Syndicated) – August 20, 2015

Proposed buffer zone leads al Qaeda to withdraw fighters from northern Aleppo province

An Al Nusrah Front fighter on the lookout in Aleppo.

An Al Nusrah Front fighter on the lookout in Aleppo.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Aug. 10, 2015:

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has released a statement saying its fighters have been ordered to withdraw from their frontline positions north of Aleppo. Al Nusrah’s jihadists had been fighting against the Islamic State in the area. The move comes in response to Turkey’s attempt to establish a buffer zone for forces fighting Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization.

The statement, which was released via Twitter on August 9, does not indicate that Al Nusrah is siding with the Islamic State in the multi-sided conflict. The group makes it clear that it will continue to fight Baghdadi’s men elsewhere. Instead, Turkey’s cooperation with the US-led coalition, which has targeted veteran al Qaeda leaders in northern Syria, has forced Al Nusrah to change tactics.

The al Qaeda arm says it is relinquishing control of its territory in the northern part of the Aleppo province. Other rebel groups will step into the void.

Al Nusrah criticizes the proposed buffer zone in its statement, saying it is intended to serve Turkey’s national security interests and is not part of a real effort to aid the mujahdeen’s cause. The Turkish government fears a Kurdish state on its southern border, according to Al Nusrah, and that is the real impetus behind its decision. The Kurds are one of the Islamic State’s main opponents and have gained territory at the expense of Baghdadi’s jihadists in recent months.

The al Qaeda branch also says it cannot find religious justifications for cooperating with the joint US-Turkey initiative.

There is an even simpler explanation for Al Nusrah’s rejection of Turkey’s buffer zone: the US has been striking select al Qaeda operatives in Al Nusrah’s ranks.

The Pentagon announced earlier this month that it had begun flying drones out of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Some of the air missions are reportedly backing up US-trained rebel forces on the ground. Those very same fighters have battled Al Nusrah, which has killed or captured a number of the “moderate” rebels.

In late July, for instance, Al Nusrah claimed that it had captured members of a group called Division 30, which has reportedly received American assistance. Other members of Division 30 were killed during clashes with Al Nusrah after the al Qaeda arm raided the group’s headquarters north of Aleppo. Subsequently, a statement attributed to Division 30 disavowed any role in the US-led coalition’s campaign. The statement also said that Division 30 would “not be dragged [into] any side battle with any faction, as it did not, and will not, fight against Al Nusrah Front or any other faction.”

Regardless, the Defense Department is providing air support to US-backed rebels, who have been dubbed the New Syrian Force. And Al Nusrah has made it clear that any American effort to influence the anti-Assad and anti-Islamic State insurgency will be treated as a hostile act.

Separately, the US has also repeatedly targeted senior al Qaeda leaders in Al Nusrah’s ranks. Labeled the “Khorasan Group,” this cadre of al Qaeda veterans has been plotting attacks in the West.

Al Qaeda’s view of cooperation with Turkey, independent from US-led coalition

From al Qaeda’s perspective, tactical cooperation with Turkey, or elements of the Turkish government, is one matter. Working with the US-backed coalition, which Turkey supports in some ways, is another issue altogether.

Consider what Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) official who alsoserved as al Qaeda’s deputy general manager until his death in April, said about Turkey earlier this year. In a question and answer session that was released online, al Ansi was asked how the jihadists should deal “with countries like Qatar and Turkey, whose policies tend to benefit the mujahideen.” Al Ansi replied that there “is no harm in benefiting from intersecting interests, as long as we do not have to sacrifice anything in our faith or doctrine.” However, al Ansi warned, this “does not alleviate their burden for collaborating with the Americans in their war against the mujahideen.” The jihadists “need to be attentive to this detail,” al Ansi explained.

In other words, al Qaeda’s members and like-minded jihadists can benefit from working with Turkey and Qatar, as long as those nations do not cross the line by advancing America’s “war against the mujahideen.” Given the circumstances described above, this is exactly how Al Nusrah now views Turkey’s proposed buffer zone.

However, as Al Ansi made clear, this does not preclude the possibility of tacit cooperation between al Qaeda’s Syrian branch and parts of the Turkish government on other matters. Indeed, because of their “intersecting interests” in Syria — namely, both want to see Bashar al Assad’s regime toppled — Turkey has been slow to recognize Al Nusrah as a threat in its own right.

In September 2014, Francis Ricciardone, the former US ambassador to Turkey, accused the Turks of working with Al Nusrah. “We ultimately had no choice but to agree to disagree,” Ricciardone said of his discussion with Turkish officials. “The Turks frankly worked with groups for a period, including Al Nusrah, whom we finally designated as we’re not willing to work with.”

Since early on the rebellion against the Assad regime, Turkey has permitted large numbers of foreign jihadists to travel into Syria. At various points, this benefitted not only Al Nusrah, but also al Qaeda’s rivals in the Islamic State, which Turkey now opposes.

For instance, in October 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported on meetings between US officials, Turkish authorities and others. “Turkish officials said the threat posed by [Al Nusrah], the anti-Assad group, could be dealt with later,” according to US officials and Syrian opposition leaders who spoke with the newspaper. Officials also told the publication that the US government’s decision to designate Al Nusrah as a terrorist group in December 2012 was intended “in part to send a message to Ankara about the need to more tightly control the arms flow.”

Eventually, in 2014, Turkey also designated Al Nusrah as a terrorist organization. Turkish authorities have also reportedly launched sporadic raids on al Qaeda-affiliated sites inside their country.

Still, al Qaeda has found Turkey to be a hospitable environment in the past. According to the US Treasury Department, al Qaeda has funneled cash and fighters through Turkish soil to Al Nusrah.

In October 2012, Treasury said that a network headed by al Qaeda operative Muhsin al Fadhli was moving “fighters and money through Turkey to support al Qaeda-affiliated elements in Syria.” In addition, al Fadhli leveraged “his extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.” (The Defense Department believes that al Fadhli was killed in an airstrike on July 8.)

It remains to be seen how Al Nusrah will react to Turkey’s latest moves, beyond rejecting the proposed buffer zone. In the meantime, groups allied with Al Nusrah will likely take over its turf.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracy and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

Also see:

IS U.S. Going to Be Backed into Airstrikes Against Assad?

Center for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler, August 3, 2015:

The U.S. is now redefining it’s support relationship with “Division 30″, following its embarrassing launch last week.  Several of the U.S. trained Syrian rebels and their commanders were captured by Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra Front just days after the group’s entry into Syria. The U.S. has allocated $500 million for the training effort, which has so far produced approximately 60 fighters.

The attack by Nusra apparently took the U.S. completely by surprise, according to current and former officials interviewed by the New York Times:

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments. The Nusra Front said in a statement on Friday that its aim was to eliminate Division 30 before it could gain a deeper foothold in Syria.

That the attack was not anticipated is a particularly egregious failure, seeing as Al-Nusra has undertaken to co-opt or eliminate every militia in Syria which the U.S. supported. Yet somehow U.S. planners failed to foresee the obvious. Following the attack, the U.S has now announced that it will use airstrikes against any force attacking Division 30, including the Assad regime’s forces. This is a relaxation of a previous more restrictive policy, which was formed under concerns that the rebels would attempt to direct U.S. ordinance against Assad instead of the Islamic State.

The U.S.’s policy towards Islamic State in Syria fails to address the reality that Islamic State is simply not a priority for any other force operating in the Syria except the U.S., its Western allies, and perhaps the Kurdish PKK/YPG. Turkey’s entry into the conflict, celebrated by U.S. policy makers, is almost entirely directed towards damaging the Kurdish PKK and preventing an autonomous or independent Kurdistan in Syria. The Syrian rebel forces, the vast majority of whom are Islamist in orientation, if not, like al Nusra, overtly jihadist, and are focused on Assad, not Islamic State.

What does the U.S. intend to do if, as seems likely, Division 30 forces engage Assad’s forces, either alone, or in coordination with other rebels? Will the U.S. provide airstrikes if Assad’s forces launch a counter offensive? Will it provide air cover to defend Division 30 against Assad’s Air Force? As Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin noted in January, this was not an unforeseen problem.



Then consider the deal for the use of Incirlik Airbase, which reportedly required the U.S. agreeing to Turkish effort to establish a “safe zone”,  along the border for Syrian rebels and refugees.

That agreement has been a long time desire of Turkey, Syrian rebels and pro-intervention U.S. lawmakers, and efforts to agitate for a no-fly zone have stepped up again in recent days.And while U.S. sources seek to emphasize the space is intended as an “anti-ISIS” safe zone, the real goal of the Turks and their rebel allies is, and has been since at least 2012,  a zone to shield forces from  Assad, and especially his air assets. In 2013, U.S. officials reportedly could not find a compelling national interest in establishing a no-fly zone over Northern Syria, and it 2014, National Security Advisor Susan Rice described a No Fly Zone or safe zone as “premature” or “a diversion”.

Yet it appears Turkey may now achieve this long-time objective. , thanks in part to the Islamic State.


Former Defense Department spokesman, JD Gordon, joins former U.S. Congressman Michael Flanagan, to discuss President Obama’s approval of airstrikes in Syria that could lead to the U.S. taking sides in the Syrian civil war:

Also see:

The funny thing is the Kurds have the numbers, capability and the tenacity needed to defeat IS. So why is it we’re not doing more to support them and why are we still trying to convince ourselves that Turkey is a legitimate “ally?”


turkish_pm_recep_tayyip_erdoganFrontpage, by Rober Ellis, July 29, 2015:

The bomb attack on the Turkish border town of Suruc in southeastern Turkey, targeting a group of activists planning to help rebuild Kobane across the border in Syria, came at an opportune moment for Turkey’s interim AKP (Justice and Development Party) government.

Unlike a bombing in another border town, Reyhanli, two years ago, which failed to attract U.S. support for Turkey’s campaign against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, this time the bombing has done the trick. The suicide bomber was a member of an Islamist group linked to ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), and by pointing the finger at ISIL, Turkey has gained Obama’s support for an incursion into Syria, as this falls in with American plans.

Three years ago, Turkey failed to secure the U.N. Security Council’s support for the creation of a safe zone for refugees and a no-fly zone along the Syrian border and has since lobbied for U.S. backing, but now a formula has been found. In return for allowing American aircraft the use of Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey for sorties against ISIL – instead of the long haul from the Gulf, or Iraq and Jordan, an agreement has been reached on creating an “ISIL-free zone” in northern Syria with U.S. air support.

The plan is to drive ISIL from an area running for 68 miles along the Syrian border and some 40 miles inland and to replace ISIL with “moderate” Syrian opposition forces such as the FSA (Free Syrian Army) to allow displaced refugees to return.

On paper, the plan provides welcome leverage for the U.S. in its offensive against ISIL and evidence of Turkey’s good intentions, but there are drawbacks.

The suicide bombing in Suruc has been met with widespread Kurdish anger against the AKP government, akin to the anger felt by the Kurds over what they considered the AKP’s abandonment of Kobane to ISIL. There have not only been demonstrations but the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has attacked the Turkish army and murdered two policemen in retaliation.

Turkey’s response has been to bomb PKK camps in northern Iraq and after a cross-border exchange of fire to launch air strikes against ISIL. The PKK’s reply has been unequivocal. “The truce has no meaning any more,” it stated on its website.

The peace process, which began in 2012, is now over, and the Istanbul Police Department and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) have warned of impending attacks from both the PKK and ISIL.

Turkey’s latest move fits in with the AKP’s and, in particular, President Erdogan’s domestic agenda. Unable to garner Kurdish support in June’s election, the AKP’s aim of gaining an overall majority was thwarted by the Kurdish-based HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), which passed the electoral threshold and gained 80 seats out of the parliament’s 550. If the AKP is unable to form a coalition government with the leading opposition party, the secular CHP (Republican People’s Party), President Erdogan will call for a re-election in the hope that the AKP once again will secure an overall majority and legislate a new constitution to provide him with unbridled power.

Erdogan has also reneged on the Dolmabahce Agreement from the end of February, a 10-point list of priorities for the Kurdish peace process, which was prepared and announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and an HDP deputy. The President has called the HDP a parliamentary extension of the PKK and said it has “an inorganic link” with the organization. The HDP has called on the PKK to lay down its arms against Turkey, but it is feared the government may take steps to close the party, thus depriving Turkey’s Kurds of legitimate political representation.

On the other hand, there is an overall suspicion among the Kurds that the AKP government is in cahoots with ISIL. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s claim that “Turkey and AKP governments have never had any direct or indirect connection with any terrorist organization” flies in the face of last November’s report from the U.N. Security Council’s Analytical Support and Monitoring Team, which identifies Turkey as the primary route for weaponry smuggled to ISIL and the Al-Nusrah Front.

The State Department’s briefing at the beginning of June also stated Turkey is the main route for more than 22,000 fighters who have flocked to Syria to join extremist organizations, mainly ISIL. There are numerous other sources.

After the fall of Tel Abyad in June Erdogan declared Turkey would never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria, and now the accord with the U.S. has provided an ideal opportunity to drive a wedge between a Kurdish canton to the west and two Kurdish cantons to the east in the form of an “ISIL-free zone.”

Davutoglu has said Turkey will not send in ground forces, but his foreign minister, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, has not ruled out the possibility. Nevertheless, 54,000 Turkish troops, tanks and artillery have been deployed on the Syrian border, if need be.

Such a move will further exacerbate tensions between Kurds on both sides of the border and Turkey’s AKP government.

As the HDP has warned in a statement: “It is a plan to set the country on fire in order for the government to secure a single-party government in a snap election, while creating an impression it is conducting a comprehensive fight against terrorism.”

Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.


Also see:

How Turkey Border Zone Could Help Syrian Rebels Obtain Weapons, Cash To Fight Assad

A Free Syrian Army soldier gestures atop a tank after capturing the Assad regime's Brigade 52 base in Daraa, southern Syria, June 9, 2015. Reuters/Alaa Al-Faqir

A Free Syrian Army soldier gestures atop a tank after capturing the Assad regime’s Brigade 52 base in Daraa, southern Syria, June 9, 2015. Reuters/Alaa Al-Faqir

IB Times, By Erin Banco, July 28 2015:

Rebels in Syria are counting their stockpiles of ammunition, weapons and tanks in the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city and one of the largest battlegrounds in the fight against the Islamic State group and President Bashar Assad’s forces. As usual, the rebels are running low this month on supplies needed to defeat their enemies. Even for some of the strongest and best-connected units in northern Syria, finding and obtaining simple resources like bullets and Kalashnikovs can take weeks.

That could all change in the coming days when the United States and its NATO allies move forward with a proposed offensive to create a “safe zone” aimed at pushing back Islamic State group militants from the Syrian-Turkish border. For rebel groups, the promised campaign represents an unprecedented opportunity to obtain much needed-cash and weapons. But for the U.S. and Turkey, the countries spearheading the operation, there is a risk that the weapons they supply will end up in the hands of rebels who have a different goal — fighting Assad first, not ISIS.

Under the plan, Turkish troops and Syrian rebel fighters are to clear a 60-mile strip of land along the border to create a haven for Syrian refugees, who have flooded Turkey’s borders during the four-year civil war. The U.S. and Turkey will rely on rebels on the ground to secure the buffer zone. The rebels are supposed to get regular shipments of ammunition and heavy weaponry to ensure that the Sunni militants known as ISIS stay out of the area.


That process, though, could go awry quickly. The rebels receiving the arms for securing the buffer zone will undergo no formal training and will not be bound to any official or binding agreement with the U.S. and Turkey. Rebels in Aleppo say that while they are willing to join the buffer zone monitoring force, they fully intend on using the weapons they receive from the U.S. and Turkey for their fight against Assad first and foremost, before the fight against ISIS.

“This is what we have been asking for for years. This is what we wanted,” a member of one of the largest rebel umbrella organizations in the country said on condition of anonymity. “We have been asking for weapons for years, and we finally have a good chance of getting them.”

Taking out Assad is not an immediate concern for the U.S. It wants to defeat ISIS first. Turkey, on the other hand, supports the rebel groups that see Assad as the real enemy.

In recent years, Turkey has funded groups like Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni Muslim extremist group with ties to al Qaeda, and has pushed for the ousting of Assad before ISIS. The Turkish government has also taken part in the shipment of arms to rebels in Syria, Reuters reported earlier this year.

In contrast, the U.S. has rejected cooperation with Ahrar al-Sham and other extremists, instead preferring to work with so-called “moderate rebels.” The U.S. has also promoted an ISIS-first strategy, which has angered some rebels who argue that Assad is the true enemy and must be taken out of power before the Islamic State can be toppled.

Rebel groups in Syria, especially in the north, are split in their allegiances to Turkey and the U.S., and finding a rebel force with a common ideology and strategy to carry out the monitoring of the buffer zone will be difficult, rebels in Aleppo told International Business Times Monday. The weapons, they said, will end up falling into the hands of groups that have different ideologies and ultimate goals.

While many rebel leaders used to fall under one umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army, they have recently split and are now duking it out for land and power. There are the hardline Islamist fighters with known battlefield strength, but an extremist Muslim ideology. Then there’s the more moderate groups known for their popularity among the people of Aleppo, who while still devoutly Muslim, do not want the implementation of Shariah law in the post-war era.

In an effort to get the U.S. weapons for the buffer zone mission, extremist fighters who make up Ahrar al-Sham, one of the main Islamist rebel groups, say they have tried to promote themselves as a more moderate organization, one willing to work with other groups toward a peace process. But in the end, they say, the weapons they receive will be used for one goal.

“Ahrar al-Sham wants to see the end to Assad’s reign,” wrote Labib Al Nahhas, foreign affairs director for Ahrar al-Sham, in the Telegraph this week. “Assad and his cabal of murderous generals must go.”

Al Nahhas also warned the U.S. against attempting to bring Western values to Syria. “Political systems and models of government cannot be imported into the Middle East and expected to flourish where historical experiences, political cultures and social structures are so radically different. There needs to be a major role for religion and local custom in any political arrangement that emerges,” he said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad admitted during a speech in Damascus that the Syrian Army no longer has enough troops to defend the entire country.  Reuters/Sana Sana

Syrian President Bashar Assad admitted during a speech in Damascus that the Syrian Army no longer has enough troops to defend the entire country. Reuters/Sana Sana

Other rebel leaders, including some who were once trained and given weapons under a CIA covert operation against Assad in 2013, have called the safe zone operation a “sham.” In the spring of 2013, the U.S. selected groups within the Free Syrian Army for a program that allowed for the transfer of U.S.-made weapons to Turkey via other countries’ aircraft.

One senior rebel leader in Idlib, a major rebel stronghold in the southwest of Aleppo, insisted the West had failed them before and “will fail us again.” The United States is “sitting on its heels” in seriously attacking Assad because it does not want to engage in armed conflict with the dictator’s allies, Iran and Russia, he added.

Still, the appeal of helping the United States and Turkey fight ISIS is clear to many rebel leaders, who expect the offensive to bring in loads of cash and weapons, resources they have needed desperately amid a four-year battle to unseat Assad.

“We think that President Obama threw the Syrian opposition under the bus,” Mohammed Ghanem, a senior political adviser in Washington at the Syrian American Council, a grassroots organization based in Chicago, told IBTimes in November. “Given how abysmal the situation is in Syria, that seems like a bad joke.”

Also see:

Obama Admin Backs NATO Ally Turkey’s Double Game with Islamic State After Turks Bomb Anti-ISIS Kurdish Groups

1436985867gory-23PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, July 26, 2015:

A bizarre situation unfolded this past week, one that could possibly drag the U.S. into a new war in the Middle East.

On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a rally in Suruc, Turkey, targeting a news conference of the Kurdish Federation of Socialist Youth Associations, killing 32. The suicide bomber was identified by Turkish authorities as an Islamic State supporter who had returned from Syria.

NYT tweet

In response the Islamist government in Ankara, led by Obama’s pal Recep Erdogan (one of Obama’s top five international friends), launched airstrikes targeting not the Islamic State, but Kurdish groups in Iraq.

CNN Turk

CNN Turk m2

This comes as more evidence emerges that Turkey has been playing a double game with the Islamic State. The evidence was obtained in a U.S. special forces raid of a senior ISIS leader in Iraq.

The Guardian reports today:

When US special forces raided the compound of an Islamic State leader in eastern Syria in May, they made sure not to tell the neighbours.

The target of that raid, the first of its kind since US jets returned to the skies over Iraq last August, was an Isis official responsible for oil smuggling, named Abu Sayyaf. He was almost unheard of outside the upper echelons of the terror group, but he was well known to Turkey. From mid-2013, the Tunisian fighter had been responsible for smuggling oil from Syria’s eastern fields, which the group had by then commandeered. Black market oil quickly became the main driver of Isis revenues – and Turkish buyers were its main clients.

As a result, the oil trade between the jihadis and the Turks was held up as evidence of an alliance between the two. It led to protests from Washington and Europe – both already wary of Turkey’s 900-mile border with Syria being used as a gateway by would-be jihadis from around the world.

This comes as more evidence emerges that Turkey has been playing a double game with the Islamic State. The evidence was obtained in a U.S. special forces raid of a senior ISIS leader in Iraq.

The Guardian reports today:

When US special forces raided the compound of an Islamic State leader in eastern Syria in May, they made sure not to tell the neighbours.

The target of that raid, the first of its kind since US jets returned to the skies over Iraq last August, was an Isis official responsible for oil smuggling, named Abu Sayyaf. He was almost unheard of outside the upper echelons of the terror group, but he was well known to Turkey. From mid-2013, the Tunisian fighter had been responsible for smuggling oil from Syria’s eastern fields, which the group had by then commandeered. Black market oil quickly became the main driver of Isis revenues – and Turkish buyers were its main clients.

As a result, the oil trade between the jihadis and the Turks was held up as evidence of an alliance between the two. It led to protests from Washington and Europe – both already wary of Turkey’s 900-mile border with Syria being used as a gateway by would-be jihadis from around the world.

Turkey oil link t0 ISIS


This is not the first time that Turkey has been caught double-dealing against their U.S. NATO ally. There was the “gas for gold” scheme with Iran that allowed the Islamic Republic to skirt international sanctions, and Erdogan and the Turkish intelligence chief had a photographed meeting with U.S. designated Al-Qaeda global terror financier Yasin al-Qadi.

Curiously, shortly after those reports showing photographs of Erdogan meeting with al-Qadi appeared in the Turkish media, the Treasury Department under Obama removed al-Qadi’s terror designation.

The preferred route of thousands of foreign fighters now in the ranks of ISIS appears to have been mostly coming from Turkey and crossing the border into Syria, bringing complaints that Turkey was not doing enough to combat the group’s growth and that the border was becoming “a two-way jihadist highway.”

But a series of published reports going back to last year seem to show direct and indirect Turkish support for the Islamic State.

  • In April 2014, Turkish media reports showed photographs of ISIS commander Abu Muhammad being treated at the Hatay State Hospital after being injured fighting in Syria. Opposition politicians also claimed that fighters with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, were allowed to stay at the guesthouses of the government’s Religious Affairs Directorate.
  • Last November, Newsweek published an interview with a former ISIS fighter who said that ISIS fighters faced no obstructions entering from Turkey. Meanwhile, ISIS commanders bragged about the “full cooperation with the Turks,” while anti-ISIS Kurdish fighters were blocked by Turkish authorities.
  • This account seems to be confirmed by a report from Aydınlık Daily, which reported in July 2014 that the Turkish intelligence service, the MIT, had transported members of Syrian terrorist groups and their weapons across the border.
  • Two weeks after that report, at an event site approved by Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party and sponsored by a publication known for its ISIS sympathiesa rally was held in Istanbul where video showed speakers openly calling for jihad. There were also reports that recruiting for ISIS fighters took place.
  • In January, Turkish military documents from the Gendarmerie General Command leaked online showed that Turkish intelligence were transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition for Al-Qaeda and actively obstructed the military from documenting the transfers.
  • The New York Times reported in May that massive amounts of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer used for making bombs, were being prepared in a Turkish town near Syria and transported across the border. The report quoted an opposition politician who admitted that the fertilizing was not for farms, but for bombs.
  • Reuters reported exclusively in late May that court documents and prosecutor testimony revealed that Turkish intelligence had transported weapons across the border in 2013 and early 2014, aiding the offensive push by ISIS into Iraq in June 2014. Erdogan himself had said that the shipments were aid.

And then there’s this, though it’s unlikely that it’s much of a secret…

Turkey recruting IS

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Also see:

Iran Courting Native Americans in Canada: Leaked Document

Terrance Nelson, former chief of Manitoba's Roseau River

Terrance Nelson, former chief of Manitoba’s Roseau River

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, June 24, 2015:

Saudi Arabia is greatly concerned about how the Iranian regime is establishing relationships with Native American tribes in Canada, according to a newly-leaked Saudi intelligence document.

The Islamist government of Turkey is likewise reaching out to Native American tribes inside the United States.

The secret document from Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Agency, dated May 25, 2012, was sent to the Saudi Prime Minister and approved by the Saudi Crown Prince and Foreign Minister. Saudi intelligence appears to confirm that Iran is becoming friendly with Native Americans in Canada and has even mobilized them for pro-Iran, anti-American political activism.

The memo states that Saudi intelligence is monitoring “the attempts by the Iranian government to take advantage of the situation of the Indians of Canada, in order to build connections with them, to gain from their reservations and lands, to carry out various activities and investments.”

Saudi intelligence reports that Native American leaders recently protested against American and Canadian foreign policy in front of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. It states that the Indians expressed pro-Iran sentiments at the rally.

It also reports that two tribal leaders from Manitoba Province met with Iranian embassy officials and said they’d take a trip to Tehran. The Indian leaders said they want Iranian investment in their reservations and would like to send 200 children to Iran to study administration and development.

The intelligence memo notes that the Canadian media has reported on the matter and pointed out Iran’s hypocrisy in embracing the Native American minority while oppressing its own minorities.

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Is Kurdistan Rising?

The State of the Kurds  WSJ 6-20-15

NER, by Jerry Gordon, June 21, 2015:

In the Wall Street Journal Weekend edition, June 20-21, 2015, Yaroslav Trofimov writes of the possible rise of an independent Kurdistan, “The State of The Kurds”.  An independent Kurdistan was promised by the WWI Allies in the Treaty of Sevres that ended the Ottoman Empire in 1920. That commitment was dashed by the rise of Turkish Republic under the secularist Kemal Atatürk confirmed in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne denying an independent Kurdistan in what is now Eastern Turkey. Combined a future Kurdistan encompassing eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, northwest Iran and northern Iraq might comprise a landlocked republic of 30 million with significant energy and agricultural resources.  The rise of Kurdistan is reflected in these comments in the Trofimov WSJ review article:

Selahattin Demirtas, Chairman of the HDP party in Turkey:

The Kurds’ existence was not recognized; they were hidden behind a veil. But now, after being invisible for a century, they are taking their place on the international stage. Today, international powers can no longer resolve any issue in the Middle East without taking into account the interests of the Kurds.

Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and chairman of the bar in Diyarbakir, Turkey:

In the past, when the Kurds sought self-rule, the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs were all united against it. Today that’s not true anymore—it’s not possible for the Shiite government in Iraq and Shiite Iran to work together against the Kurds with the Sunni Turkey and the Sunni ISIS. In this environment, the Kurds have become a political and a military power in the Middle East.

Elçi, amplifies a concern that Sherkoh Abbas, leader of the Kurdish National Syria Assembly (KURDNAS) has expressed in several NER interviews an articles with him:

The PKK has made important steps to adopt more democratic ways. But you cannot find the same climate of political diversity in [Kurdish] Syria as you find in [northern Iraq], and this is because of PKK’s authoritarian and Marxist background. This is a big problem.

As effective as the KRG government and peshmerga have been in pushing back at ISIS forces threatening the capital of Erbil, the real problem is the divisiveness in the political leadership. That is reflected in the comment of  Erbil province’s governor, Nawaf Hadi cited by Trofimov:

For 80 years, the Arab Sunni people led Iraq—and they destroyed Kurdistan. Now we’ve been for 10 years with the Shiite people [dominant in Baghdad], and they’ve cut the funding and the salaries—how can we count on them as our partner in Iraq?” All the facts on the ground encourage the Kurds to be independent.

That renewed prospect reflects the constellation of  events in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Supporters cheer Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP

Supporters cheer Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP

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Also see:

Shoshana Bryen: The Kurds – A Guide for U.S. Policymakers

Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director, Jewish Policy Center; Former Senior Director for Security Policy, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)

Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director, Jewish Policy Center; Former Senior Director for Security Policy, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)

Center for Security Policy, by Rachel Silverman, June 8, 2015:

On Sunday, June 7th Turkish voters delivered a dramatic blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a historic first, a party dominated by ethnic Kurds surged into the Grand National Assembly in Ankara, marking a new moment in the evolution of Turkey’s democracy. According to Akin Unver, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, it’s now “impossible to sideline Kurdish politics. Despite the civil war of the 1990s, Kurds have evolved politically and established a lasting legacy” on the Turkish national stage.

Professor Unver, is not the only one who believes that the Kurds should be recognized politically. On June 4th, during the Center for Security Policy’s National Security Group Lunch on Capitol Hill, Shoshana Bryen who is the Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center offered three practical steps that the U.S. can do to help assist the Kurds and advance U.S. interests in the region.

Bryen says that the first step, which coincides with Professor Unver, “is for the U.S. to recognize the Kurds politically, as an ally, as a partner in the fight against ISIS.” She mentions that there was a meeting in Paris last week between coalition members to discuss Iraq and Syria and the Kurds were not invited, despite the fact that there are 160,000 or so Kurdish fighters on the ground doing the job.

The second step, according to Bryen, is for the U.S. to talk to the Kurds directly and not through Baghdad:

“Right now all the aid that we give them, which is not a whole lot, goes through Baghdad. The Kurds probably get about 25 or 35 percent of that, which means we need to talk to them directly instead. The U.S. needs to figure out how to give them military equipment directly. The Turks, Iraqis, and Iranians will not like it, but if the Germans and the French can supply the Kurds directly which is what they do now, then the U.S. ought to as well.”

Bryen’s third step is that the U.S. needs to figure out how to get the Kurds to the United States to talk. Bryen stresses that “the Kurdish voices are not being heard around the United States and they need to be. They need invitations, they need to be invited to testify on Capitol Hill, and they need to be invited to conferences.”

Bryen also stresses that U.S. interests actually lie with the minority communities in the Middle East, which includes Israel and the Kurds. She says that “we have allies in the region and we need to lean on them instead of trying to pretend that our enemies are our allies.” Bryen ends with saying that if we follow these three crucial steps, then that is “the beginning of wisdom for the United States.”

Becoming allies with the Kurds would offer the United States tremendous strategic advantages that would help defeat the Islamic State, especially now after the Turkish election results. Unlike several of the countries from which the U.S. flies their aircrafts or bases their ships, the Kurdish leaders and people are pro-American, its ruling regime is not a monarchy ripe for Arab-Spring-style overthrow, and it does not sponsor Islamist terrorism. It is clearly time for America to form an alliance with the Kurds.

Turkey: “An End to an Era of Oppression”

Gatestone Institute, by Burak Bekdil, June 8, 2015:

  • “We, through democratic means, have brought an end to an era of oppression.” — Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition, Republican People’s Party (CHP).
  • Erdogan is now the lonely sultan in his $615 million, 1150-room presidential palace. For the first time since 2002, the opposition has more seats in the parliament than the AKP.

For the first time since his Islamist party won its first election victory in 2002, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was nowhere to be seen on the night of June 7. He did not make a victory speech. He did not, in fact, make any speech.

Not only failing to win the two-thirds majority they desired to change the constitution, the AKP lost its parliamentary majority and the ability to form a single-party government. It won 40.8% of the national vote and 258 seats, 19 short of the simple majority requirement of 276. Erdogan is now the lonely sultan at his $615 million, 1150-room presidential palace. For the first time since 2002, the opposition has more seats in parliament than the AKP: 292 seats to 258.

“The debate over presidency, over dictatorship in Turkey is now over,” said a cheerful Selahattin Demirtas after the preliminary poll results. Demirtas, a Kurdish politician whose Peoples’ Democracy Party [HDP] entered parliament as a party for the first time, apparently with support from secular, leftist and marginal Turks, is the charismatic man who destroyed Erdogan’s dreams of an elected sultanate. Echoing a similar view, the social democrat, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party [CHP], commented on the early results in plain language: “We, through democratic means, have brought an end to an era of oppression.”

What lies ahead is less clear. Theoretically, the AKP can sign a coalition deal with the third biggest party, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party [MHP], although during the campaign, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli slammed Erdogan harshly for the embarrassing corruption allegations against the president. At the same time, a CHP-MHP-HDP coalition is unlikely, as it must bring together the otherwise arch-enemies MHP and HDP.

Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli addresses supporters after the release of preliminary election results, June 7, 2015. (Image source: MHP video screenshot)

The AKP management may be planning for snap, or early, polls but there are hardly any rational reasons for it except to risk another ballot box defeat. Parliament may try a minority government, supported by one of the parties from outside government benches, but this can only create a temporary government.

Two outcomes, however, look almost certain: 1) The AKP is in an undeniable decline; the voters have forced it into compromise politics rather than permitting it to run a one-man show, with in-house bickering even more likely than peace, and new conservative Muslims challenging the incumbent leadership. 2) Erdogan’s ambitions for a too-powerful, too-authoritarian, Islamist executive presidency, “a la sultan,” will have to go into the political wasteland at least in the years ahead.

The AKP appeared polled in first place on June 7. But that day may mark the beginning of the end for it. How ironic; the AKP came to power with 34.4% of the national vote in 2002, winning 66% of the seats in parliament. Nearly 13 years later, thanks to the undemocratic features of an electoral law it has fiercely defended, it won 40.8% of the vote and only 47% of the seats in parliament, blocking it from even forming a simple majority.

Also see:

Erdogan vs. the New York Times, and Democracy

1167by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
May 28, 2015

For 13 years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has worked to impose his Islamist vision on Turkey’s proud secular democracy, reshaping the country into a neo-Ottoman republic. His success can be credited in no small measure to his manipulation and intimidation of the press, and the occasional censorship of social media and the Internet overall. Now, in a gesture that betrays either Islamist imperialism, sheer ignorance of Western democracy, or both, Turkey’s president and former prime minister is expanding his reach, raising his fist – and, he hopes, his influence – at the West, using the New York Times as his target.

Infuriated by a “shameless” May 23 Times editorial that called him “increasingly hostile to truth-telling” and accused him of “brute manipulation of the political process” in the upcoming June 7 elections, Erdogan accused the paper of “overstepping the limits of freedom” and “meddling in Turkish politics.” Speaking in Istanbul on Monday, the Turkish leader called on the Times to “know its place,” and alleged that if the paper were to criticize U.S. leaders, those leaders “would immediately do what is necessary” – an ominous suggestion that spotlights his own way of dealing with journalists who say things he doesn’t like: he puts them in prison, often on charges of “terrorism.” In 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists cited Turkey as the leading imprisoner of journalists for the second year in a row. The release of eight of those journalists in 2014 put the country in second place, but signs are strong that 2015 will see the country take the lead again.

Indeed, only days after his rant against the Times, Erdogan took revenge on formerTimes reporter Stephen Kinzer, revoking his promise to grant him “honorary citizenship” and instead calling him “an enemy of our government and of our country.” That change of heart appears to have come when someone on the president’s staff uncovered a Jan. 4 article Kinzer penned for the Boston Globe, in which he observed, “Once seen as a skilled modernizer, [Erdoğan] now sits in a 1,000-room palace denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control.”

This is hardly the first time Erdogan has wrestled with the “Gray Lady.” In 2014, the then-prime minister refuted the Times’ report that Turkey had allowed weapons to flow into Syria to aid ISIS. Turkey, he insisted, “is against terrorism of all kinds, indiscriminately.” It was an ironic statement at best, coming from a man with Muslim Brotherhood sympathies who is also the leader of a country that allegedly serves as a Hamas headquarters. It is also worth noting that while Erdogan called Kinzer an “enemy of the government,” he openly welcomed members of the Brotherhood expelled from Egypt after the fall of Mohamed Morsi.

But it wasn’t just the article Erdogan found problematic, he also criticized the Times’use of a photograph of him exiting a mosque, claiming it suggested that he and the mosque were responsible for recruiting jihadists for ISIS. The paper subsequentlyapologized for the image, saying it was “published in error.” That led Erdogan to crow locally that he had triumphed over the Times – and so, he meant to suggest, over America. Similarly, in the aftermath of the latest Times conflict, he warned that theTimes no longer rules Turkey: “They are used to ruling the other side of the world from 10,000-15,000 kilometers’ distance,” he declared. “But there is no such Turkey. There is no more old Turkey. There is a new Turkey.”

It was a typical Erdogan gesture: he often seeks that kind of triumph – not only over America, but over the entire world. He has famously stated that Muslims, not Columbus, discovered America, a position he defended with the assertions that “as the president of my country, I cannot accept that our civilization is inferior to other civilizations,” and that “Western sources shouldn’t be believed as if they are sacred texts.”

At speeches in Europe, he has exhorted Turkish-Europeans to resist assimilation. “Assimilation is a crime against humanity,” he told an international audience of 20,000 who attended his 2008 speech in Cologne, Germany. And in 2013, in a highly controversial move, he demanded that the Dutch government place Turkish-Dutch foster children only in Muslim homes – despite the fact that there are few Muslim families offering to house foster children.

More recently, the Islamist party he founded in 2001, the Justice Development Party (AKP), went so far as to proclaim that “God is on our side” in the upcoming parliamentary elections – a statement that in itself defies the deepest principles of a secular, democratic republic. It is a position also in keeping with Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman agenda, which to date has included the institution of mandatory religion classes and lessons in Arabic-Ottoman script in all Turkish schools. (Kemal Ataturk banned Ottoman script with the founding of the Turkish Republic, replacing it with a Latin alphabet aimed at Westernizing Turkey, turning it away from its Islamic and Arab history.)

Much about Erdogan’s vision, in fact, can be read into this reinstatement of Ottoman Turkish; as the Washington Post observed, his opponents have taken the move “as a sign of the creeping Islamization of Turkey’s resolutely secular society that has taken place under Erdogan’s watch. Bans on headscarves and veils have been lifted by Erdogan. The number of students studying in state-run religious seminaries has grown from 63,000 in 2002, when Erdogan first came to power, to nearly 1 million today – a statistic the Turkish president celebrates.” Not for nothing did Erdogan promise early in his administration to build “a new religious youth.”

From all of this emerges a confused, somewhat bizarre understanding of the role of the written word, be it in journalism or religious text, and a confusion between the two. It is forbidden to criticize Mohammed, for instance, but it is equally forbidden, evidently, to criticize Turkey’s president (as it is the leaders of most, if not all, Muslim countries).

Indeed, a 16-year-old schoolboy was arrested last December on charges of insulting the president over comments defending secularism and alleging government corruption. In an Islamist society – that of political Islam – there is no distinction between Islam and the state: to criticize one is tantamount to criticizing the other.

In the same way, Erdogan’s aim of creating a “new Turkey” that restores the Ottoman Empire and is more powerful than America or Europe, is akin to the ideal of a world Caliphate – a world under Islam. Already it is plain that, as he gradually erodes the legacy of a secular Turkey, increasingly he paves the way for the sharia state he has reportedly advocated in the past. What he may not realize is that the harder he tries to silence these truths, the clearer he makes them.

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.


The Conquest Unit is scheduled to march behind the Ottoman military band. File photo

The Conquest Unit is scheduled to march behind the Ottoman military band. File photo

Turkish army forms ceremonial Ottoman unit on Erdoğan’s order

The Turkish Armed Forces have formed a new ceremonial brigade, dressed as Ottoman soldiers, to attend events marking the 562nd anniversary of the Turks’ conquest of Istanbul, upon the instructions of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The 1st Army headquarters in Istanbul formed the 478-man “Conquest Unit” through its personnel. The ceremonial brigade will be joined by an 84-men Ottoman military band, known in Turkish as the “Mehter,” in the official ceremony for the anniversary, which will be held in Istanbul on May 30 this year, a day later than the conquest’s traditional commemoration date.

Costumes of the Conquest Unit, which will march behind the Mehter, will be provided by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The full set of historic attire will include 14 different costumes to represent different units of the Ottoman military.

President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are both scheduled to attend the event in Istanbul’s Yenikapı Square a week before the June 7 general election.

Soon after his election as Turkey’s president in August 2014, Erdoğan moved in to the massive newly-built presidential palace in Ankara, where he has hosted foreign guests flanked by actors dressed in traditional Turkish military costumes from multiple eras.


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