America’s Turkey Problem Finally Comes to a Head

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (left) and Russian president Vladimir Putin at a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, April 4, 2018. (Tolga Bozoglu/Pool/Reuters)

This week brought signs that the deeply flawed status quo of U.S.-Turkish relations has begun to crack.

National Review, by Matthew RJ Brodsky, August 3, 2018:

For successive administrations, inertia may have kept the flawed status quo of U.S.–Turkey relations in place, but the train appears finally to be running out of track. It was bound to happen eventually, regardless of the Trump administration’s just-announced decision to impose sanctions on two Turkish cabinet officials in response to Turkey’s continued detention of an American pastor. And now it has: The final version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House last week and is set to come to a vote in the Senate in August, contains a handful of provisions that take aim at Turkey, which is officially a NATO ally but has come to resemble a “frenemy” at best over the past decade.

At issue is Turkey’s plan to simultaneously purchase two weapons systems that would have long-term strategic implications for the United States and its most loyal allies. The Senate version of the NDAA contains a provision calling for Turkey to be sanctioned if it completes the purchase of Russia’s S-400 long-range air- and missile-defense system. Another provision directs the Pentagon to submit a plan to Congress to remove Turkey from participation in the F-35 Lightning II program, effectively barring Ankara from receiving the top-of-line U.S-manufactured joint-strike fighter. The House version, for its part, would halt all weapons sales to Turkey until the Pentagon analyzes the worsening tensions between the two nations.

Turkey’s desire to acquire both the F-35 and the S-400 has rightfully set off alarm bells in Washington and beyond, because the two systems were designed by fierce adversaries to counteract each other. Despite having its share of critics, the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet with stealth capabilities is considered by many to be the best multi-role combat aircraft in the world. In the other corner, the Russia-made S-400 is the most advanced air-defense system in use. It would pose a significant challenge to the air capabilities of the U.S. and its allies — including those that fly the F-35.

The problem isn’t merely the fact that Turkey is purchasing a surface-to-air-missile (SAM) system from Russia. Unlike the Patriot SAM system that Ankara rejected, the S-400 doesn’t integrate within NATO’s military architecture. Meanwhile, Israel continues to highlight the Patriot’s ability to tackle a diverse array of targets. This leads observers to question why Turkey would pursue a deal with Russia (or even China) at the expense of its supposed allies, especially if doing so wouldn’t boost NATO’s collective air defenses.

Indeed, while the S-400 wouldn’t play nice with the rest of NATO’s missile-defense systems, it would undoubtedly have more than a sympathetic ear for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. For instance, Russia’s S-400 radar can act as a platform to collect electronic and signal intelligence from the F-35, which is a problem that could threaten the entire F-35 fleet. By operating both systems together, Turkey could test and share information about the limitations or advantages of each. That is valuable intelligence it might choose to share with its newfound partners in Moscow and Tehran rather than with NATO. The result would be an optimized S-400 system able to detect aircraft from an even greater range, with a deeper understanding of how the top-shelf U.S. fighter plane operates.

The problem is not just theoretical, either. It is an immediate operational concern in Syria, where the U.S. is engaged with the Islamic State in the east, Israel is enforcing its red lines regarding Iran in the center and to the west, and the relentless air campaign mounted by Russia and Assad has combined with frequent Iranian air shipments of fighters and military equipment to further crowd the country’s airspace. Given such conditions, the type of air assets and aerial-defense systems at issue here can often be a determining factor in the success of any mission.

Take the F-35. Israel already purchased the aircraft as an upgrade to its aging fleet of F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. In May, Israel Air Force (IAF) commander Major General Amikam Norkin disclosedthat the aircraft had already participated in two airstrikes over the Middle East, making Israel the first country to operate an F-35 in combat, just as it was the first to use the F-15 in 1979. But while Israel is now relying on the F-35 for air superiority in Syria, Russia has brought in the S-400 system to protect its expanded Khmeimim airbase along the coast. Why, you ask, did Russia feel compelled to bring in its world-class air-defense system if it was operating against terrorist groups that didn’t even have aircraft? The answer lies in Turkey.

A few months after Russia decisively entered the Syrian war in 2015, a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24 that allegedly crossed into its airspace. Russia’s solution was to deploy the S-400 in addition to the already-formidable S-300. Both are weapons systems that Israel considers “game-changing,” but since they are operated by Russia — not Assad’s or Iran’s forces — Israel has been forced to work with Moscow in reaching an understanding on its red lines, in addition to maintaining its active de-confliction lines.

Preventing the transfer of such systems to Iran or Israel’s enemies in Syria and Lebanon is a priority for the IAF, which has mounted, by some estimates, over 100 one-off airstrikes in Syria for just that purpose. Notably, in one of three aerial attacks this year on the T-4 airbase deep inside Syria, Israel destroyed a soon-to-be-unpacked “Third Khordad” aerial-defense system, an Iranian version of Russia’s S-300. Iran received this technology when it purchased and tested the S-300 from Russia following the implementation of the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement. It is believed to be currently deployed around the hardened Fordow nuclear facility in Qom. Clearly, both the U.S. and Israel have an interest in minimizing the number of advanced Russian SAM sites guarding Iranian and Syrian assets in case a military showdown over Iran’s nuclear program becomes a necessity.

This congested military dance over Syria is taking place alongside a flurry of recent diplomatic activity in which all concerned parties are plowing a path to Putin. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the Russian leader in late July, on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa, to further their cooperation as they prepare to violate the last of four de-escalation zones they created last year. And days before the Helsinki summit in which President Trump and President Putin discussed Syria, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu again met with Putin to impress upon him the need to push Iran out of the country. Short of that, which remains unlikely, Israel hopes to at least keep Russia and the S-400 on the sidelines as it continues to target Iranian assets.

While far from ideal from Israel’s perspective, on an operational level this delicate balance in Syria has worked out for the Jewish state. For instance, on July 22, Israel targeted a military complex north of Masyaf, which is located less than five miles from Russia’s S-400. Hardly a peep was heard from Moscow.

Instead, the most bellicose voice these days comes from Ankara, which is seeking its own advantage over its neighbors and beyond. Erdogan recently slammed the U.S. for asking Turkey to comply with sanctions against Iran, because he considers the regime in Tehran to be Turkey’s “strategic partner.”

Indeed, Erdogan has even picked up some negotiating pointers from Tehran, such as how to use Western hostages as bargaining chips. Andrew Brunson, an Evangelical Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina, was arrested in Turkey in 2016, during the regime’s crackdown on journalists, academics, and Christian minorities. He was released on house arrest last Wednesday, but Erdogan won’t let him go free. Another wrinkle in the story developed over the weekend when it came to light that as part of a trade for the pastor’s release, President Trump asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to release a Turkish national arrested earlier in July on terrorism-related charges. Netanyahu complied the following day, but Erdogan failed to hold up his end of the deal. As a result, the Trump administration decided to sanction Turkey’s justice and interior ministers.

It was not exactly the message one would expect to hear from the Turkish president if he were trying to gain favor in the halls of the U.S. Congress. Then again, this is a man who dispatched his security detail to brutally assault peaceful demonstrators in Washington, D.C., last year, while he watched from his limo. The problem runs far deeper than that case or the matter of Brunson, but if such behavior is any indication of what the future holds, there’s little reason for the U.S. to afford Turkey any kind of preferential treatment.

Under Erdogan’s leadership, the state has become a revisionist power with imperial ambitions that include re-creating a version of the Ottoman Empire based on the Muslim Brotherhood model. In this sense, he has far more in common with Vladimir Putin, who seeks to redraw the map of Europe in the service of his vision of “Eurasia from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” as Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, called it.

Erdogan isn’t subtle about his preferences. Whenever he has seen an opportunity to exploit the weakness of a U.S. ally, he has taken advantage, whether it was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood against the Egyptian people or siding with Qatar when the Gulf States had isolated the kingdom. He is downright hostile to Greece and Cyprus, even as he cozies up to Russia, Iran, and China. And, of course, he remains a vocal and major financial supporter of Hamas and never misses an opportunity to liken Israelis to Nazis as he vies for leadership of the Middle East’s anti-Israel powers.

In that sense it isn’t just the thought of the F-35 and the S-400 parked together in a Turkish hangar that should have Washington worried; it’s everything about the U.S.-Turkish relationship. Erdogan’s drift away from NATO’s core values has become an unobstructed stampede toward brutish authoritarianism. He now behaves as an amateur Mafia boss demanding protection money for the damages he causes. The recent episode with Pastor Brunson is just par for the course, not an aberration or passing episode. Moreover, it is rather illustrative: A true ally such as Israel accedes to a U.S. request even when it receives little in return. Reneging on a hostage negotiation while openly courting America’s enemies is adversarial behavior.

So a reevaluation of the relationship is long overdue, and Washington should take the time now to get it right. As long as Turkey continues to prioritize its temporary alliances with Russia and Iran over its relationship with NATO, the U.S. should downgrade its ties and take its own punitive measures. That means the F-35 should be off the table for the foreseeable future and a cost, perhaps in additional sanctions, should be associated with Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400. We cannot afford to reward Ankara’s bad behavior, nor to risk the security of America’s allies and the delicate balance of power that exists over Syria.

MATTHEW RJ BRODSKY — — Matthew RJ Brodsky is a senior fellow at the Security Studies Group in Washington, D.C. and the co-author of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies study, “Controlled Chaos: The Escalation of Conflict between Israel and Iran in War-Torn Syria.”

The Trouble with Turkey’s Erdogan…and His Global Supporters

Terror Trends Bulletin, by Christopher W. Holton, June 26, 2018:

Predictably, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected in Turkey in the latest demonstration of his seizure of absolute power there.

What was once a largely secular nation is now careening toward and Islamic State to fulfill Erdogan’s dream of re-establishing the Ottoman Empire, the last widely recognized Islamic caliphate, which was shut down nearly a century ago.

Erdogan’s behavior is obviously very troubling to the West in general and NATO in particular.

• He has cozied up to the Ayatollahs in Tehran and maintained their “right” to enrich uranium.

• He has become increasingly close to Putin’s Russia, including buying advanced surface to air missile systems from the Russians, despite Turkey’s membership in NATO. Worse yet, Turkey is now procuring American F-35 strike fighters, raising the specter that Erdogan could share its advanced technology with the Russians, whose aviation industry is at least a generation behind America’s.

• Erdogan has supported the Jihadist terrorist organization HAMAS and has become increasingly hostile toward Israel. He recently called for an international Muslim military force to defend Gaza from Israel.

• Erdogan has become a major supporter of the global Muslim Brotherhood and has closely allied with Qatar, a nation that has been revealed as a major supporter of Jihadist terrorism and Islamist ideology.

What many observers are now seeing is that Turkey is becoming the major global sponsor of Jihad as the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia curtails that country’s activity along those lines. Michael Rubin explains in today’s Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/turkey-will-spread-islamic-terrorism-like-saudia-arabia-once-did

In addition to the Ayatollahs and Vladimir Putin, we can judge Erdogan by those who support him:

Prominent leaders and personalities from around the world on Monday continued to praise President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following his historic election win on Sunday.

Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party said the Turkish election results indicate “Turkish nation’s trust for AK Party and its alliances, and support for Erdogan and his party’s policies.” [NOTE: Sudan is an officially designated state sponsor of terrorism and its ruling regime is guilty of genocide.]

The leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Abdurrahman Mustafa also congratulated the president over his election victory [NOTE: Erdogan has supported Jihadist organizations in Syria, not out of ignorance, but precisely because he knows who and what they are.]

In a Twitter message, the chairman of Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars, Yousef al-Qaradawi, congratulated Erdogan and the Turkish nation “for their success in the democracy wedding”. [NOTE: Qaradawi is the ideological mentor of the Muslim Brotherhood and has been banned from traveling to the US, the UK and France due to his “extremism.” For more on Qaradawi, visit this link: http://www.shariahfinancewatch.org/2012/03/26/sheikh-yusuf-al-qaradawi-banned-from-france/

Against this backdrop, it is certainly very interesting that certain American Muslim leaders have chimed in in praise of Erdogan’s sham re-election…

The head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, congratulated the Turkish nation for the successful election, saying that a high voter turnout marked the polls.

Oussama Jamal, the secretary-general of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, said the Turkish elections were held in democratic maturity and sent a message to the world.

The executive director of the Chicago-based charity Zakat Foundation, Halil Demir also said President Erdogan proved that he was not the president of his ruling AK Party, but the entire country.

Also see:

Erdogan Tightens His Grip On Turkey

The Federalist, By Megan G. Oprea, June 25, 2018:

Turkey went to the polls yesterday, a full year earlier than the country’s planned national election, to decide whether to extend President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hold on power. Erdogan has been president for 15 years, and based on 96 percent of votes that have been counted so far, that term will be extended another five years.

Why did Erdogan hold elections early? For one thing, the Turkish economy is doing well now, a boon to the Erdogan administration that might not last another year. But really, all you need to know about this election is summed up in Erdogan’s campaign motto: “A great Turkey needs a strong leader.”

Many in Turkey (and abroad) see Erdogan as a flourishing authoritarian who is leading Turkey away from the democracy it embraced upon its modern founding after World War I. Since that time, Turkey has also insisted on strict secularism. These twin pillars are what have distinguished Turkey from the rest of the Muslim world over the past century. But democracy and secularism have steadily been eroded under Erdogan.

One of the accelerators of that erosion was the failed coup attempt in the summer of 2016, which gave Erdogan the opportunity to crack down severely on dissent in the military, the universities, the judiciary, and in the press. Nor did he miss the chance to lock up a number of opposition members. Then, last year, Erdogan held a referendum on making constitutional changes that would significantly expand executive powers over parliament and the judiciary. It would also extend how long a president could serve. Erdogan had himself in mind, naturally, which brings us to yesterday’s election.

With Erdogan’s reelection, those expanded presidential powers can now take effect. Of course, Erdogan’s election is being questioned by members of the opposition parties, which all banded together to try to bring him down, to no avail. Not only does the opposition question the election results themselves, but there’s also the small matter of a number of opposition members being imprisoned in the lead-up to the election.

But not everyone in Turkey is lamenting Erdogan’s victory. The budding dictator has a large constituency that makes up about half of the country, which is for most part the country’s conservative Muslim population. These Muslims desire a return to Islamic law in some form. That’s why, ahead of the election, Erdogan began opening religious schools. But he’s not just opening new schools, he’s replacing old schools, changing the curriculum, and firing tens of thousands of teachers and allowing religious groups to take over. This isn’t mere pandering to his constituency. Erdogan himself is an Islamist who wants to raise what he has called “a pious generation.” After yesterday, he will have mostly unfettered powers to transform Turkey in his own image.

All this raises a couple of important questions: First, why did the United States just sell a bunch of F-35s to Turkey in the face of opposition from Congress? The answer to that is that Turkey is a NATO member. Not selling to Ankara would be an affront to a supposed ally. But, as Turkey moves ever further toward authoritarianism and away from democracy, another question inevitably hovers on the horizon: why is Turkey still a member of NATO, and how long can that last?

Megan G. Oprea is the managing editor of the Texas National Security Review. She is a senior contributor to The Federalist and editor of the foreign policy newsletter INBOUND. She holds a PhD in French linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. You can follow her on Twitter.

Is Turkey Preparing for War with America?

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, July 25, 2017:

Turkey is an Islamist Venezuela with money. Its slow transformation into a Sunni Iran complete with terror backing and suppression of domestic dissent, the latest via a fake coup, was aided and abetted by the left-wing diplomatic corps.

Despite its latest information leaks revealing the presence of US forces to its Jihadist allies, it remains a member of NATO. The question is for how long.

Turkey has made progress in plans to procure an S-400 missile defense system from Russia and signatures have been signed, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

“Steps have been taken and signatures signed with Russia concerning the S-400s. Allah willing we will see the S-400s in our country,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling AK Party at a party meeting in parliament.

That would give Turkey something else in common with Iran.

Why would a NATO member want the S-400? Why, for that matter, does Turkey need it all? Whom is it expecting a possible attack from. Iran wanted Russian air defense systems to ward off an attempt to take out its nuclear weapons program by either America or Israel. Turkey isn’t seriously expecting a strike by Israel. That leaves America or some European countries. The latter is also less likely.

The S-400 won’t integrate into NATO so Turkey isn’t counting on long-term membership. Erdogan may announce a departure from NATO. Even if he doesn’t, he’s making it clear that he views potential enemies as being either in NATO or American allies, whether it’s Israel or America. But the most obvious message here is to the United States. And the message has multiple levels.

Erdogan is telegraphing that he’s going to begin moving Turkey into territory that would involve the risk of an air strike. That will mean an intensification of the current tyranny. It will mean increasing backing for Islamic terrorists. And possibly, WMD programs.

Those Hillary high fives with Erdogan’s minion really look good now. And Obama’s lectures about how Turkey ought to be a model for moderate Islamic rule even better.

WATCH: Trump Praises Populist Poland, Says West Must ‘Defend Civilization’ and ‘Faith’

Transcript

Breitbart, by Liam Deacon, July 5, 2017:

President Donald J. Trump has said the West faces an existential challenge to “defend our civilisation”, “borders”, and “faith” – hailing Poland as an example of a nation ready to defend itself and its values in an address to the Polish people Thursday.

“We must work together to confront forces that threaten over time to undermine our values and erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition”, he said, capturing the theme of his landmark speech which warned of threats from within and abroad.

Talking on Krasinski Square at the symbolic monument to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising – the largest military effort taken by any European resistance movement to the Nazis during World War II – he continued:

“Because as the Polish experience reminds us – the defence of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive?

“Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” he questioned.

To relentless chants of “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!”, he answered: “Our freedom and our civilisation depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory… Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare for the world to hear that the West will never ever be broken and our values will prevail, our people will thrive, and our civilisation will triumph.

“Let us all fight like the Poles. For family, freedom, for country, for God. God bless the Polish people, God bless our allies and God bless America,” he concluded.

The President sang the praises of the “faithful nation” of Poland, their “culture” and people, and their historic fight against Fascism and Communism, and the continued battle against “radical Islamic terrorism”.

“It is a profound honour to stand in this city by this monument to the Warsaw uprising and to address the Polish nation… A Poland that is safe, strong, and free,” he told the cheering crowd at the beginning of his speech.

Holding Poland up as an example, he gave a sweeping defence of Western civilisation – including its free speech, history, music, art, and science – and warned of the many threats it faces today, alluding to mass immigration.

He described how a million Poles had chanted “We Want God!” when the Pope visited in 1979 as the nation languished under Communist oppression, adding: “The people of Europe and America still cry out ‘We Want God’… reassert[ing] their identity as a nation devoted to God.”

On the threats of today, he said: “We are confronted by another oppressive threat – one that threatens to export extremism and terror all around the globe. The EU and America have suffered one terror attack after another. We are going to get it to stop… We must stand united against these shared enemies to rip them of their territory.”

During the speech, he also praised Poland’s leading role in NATO and criticised Russian’s “destabilising” role in the region.

“American knows that a strong alliance of free, sovereign, nations is the best defence for our freedoms and our interests. That is why my administration has demanded that all members of NATO finally meet their full and fair financial obligation. As a result of this insistence billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO,” he said.

Adding: “That is why we salute the Polish people who achieved the benchmark in commitment to our defence. Thank you, Poland!”

Poland’s conservative, populist, ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and Mr. Trump have similar views on migration and climate change and share a suspicion of international bodies and globalisation.

Mr. Trump backed Brexit and predicted the further breakup of the European Union (EU). He has promised to slash mass-migration – linking it to terrorism – and protect U.S. sovereignty from erosion in the era of globalisation.

Poland’s PiS government is also Eurosceptic and is currently battling the bloc to resist forced migrant quotas and to protect its own sovereignty.

Larger, more liberal, Western EU nations – led by France and Germany – forced throughthe migrant quota policy against the wishes of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, who argued it would expose them to terrorism.

Guests listen as US President Donald Trump gives a speech on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty)

After the Islamist Manchester bombing, the Polish prime minister slammed “the madness of the Brussels elite” who support mass-migration and urged the region to defend its “culture” and “traditions”.

The EU has threatened “sanctions” if Poland does not accept thousands from the Middle East – as well as obey the “rule of law” and reform its courts and constitution in line with EU demands.

Poland has emerged as a leader in the group of the ex-Communist, Eastern and Central EU nations (with largely right wing governments) currently fighting the migrant quota policy in the courts – all of them are also, incidentally, part of the Three Seas Initiative.

Ahead of a meeting with Mr. Trump Thursday morning, Polish President Andrzej Duda said the visit would strengthen their place in the EU. “This is the second foreign visit by President Trump and it starts in Poland. This shows we are a country that matters and it strengthens our position in the European Union,” he said on public radio.

Short after, during the meeting with Mr. Duda, Mr. Trump said: “[The U.S. has] never been closer to Poland than we are right now.”

Addressing the Three Seas Initiative Summit immediately after, Mr. Trump praised the resolve of Eastern European nations, and said he was “honoured to be here, in a city where – as its been said many times before – the impossible has become the possible”, in a reference to Poland’s fight against Fascism and Communism.

He said the “[Three Seas] Initiative will rebuild the entire region and ensure your infrastructure – like your commitment to freedom and the rule of law – binds you to all of Europe and indeed to the West.”

At the end of last month, it was reported that EU officials were worried Mr. Trump’s visit to Poland would bolster the populist, right wing government there, encouraging their defiance of the EU, and damage “European unity”.

“One cannot but feel a bit suspicious if it isn’t an attempt to break up European unity,” an EU diplomat said about the Three Seas project.

Spectators wave as US President Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump (L) looks on as his wife Melania Trump gives a speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Also see:

Bomb blast rocks Kabul during rush hour, killing dozens of civilians

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, May 31, 2017:

A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated near diplomatic facilities in the Afghan capital during rush hour this morning. Preliminary casualty reports say that at least 80 people were killed in the blast and dozens more wounded. A photo of the aftermath of the bombing (seen above) was posted on Twitter by Afghanistan’s Ariana News.

The bomb exploded at 8:22 am local time “in Kabul near Zambaq Square outside the Green Zone, which houses diplomatic and government facilities,” according to NATO’s Resolute Support. Afghan security forces “prevented the VBIED from gaining entry to the Green Zone,” but dozens of nearby civilians perished.

The Taliban has already denied any involvement via a statement attributed to Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman. It is likely that the Islamic State, which has carried out large-scale operations in Kabul this year, will claim responsibility.

Even though the Taliban-led insurgency is responsible for many civilian casualties, the organization is concerned with how its violence is perceived by the Afghan population. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists have no such concern.

Resolute Support quickly pointed out that the “attack demonstrates a complete disregard for civilians and reveals the barbaric nature of the enemy faced by the Afghan people.” It “also highlights the hypocrisy of the enemy who claim that they only target Afghan Security Forces and Foreign forces, yet continue to cause death and suffering amongst innocent Afghans.”

Mujahid’s statement reads like a response to Resolute Support. “This explosion has nothing to do with the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate,” the statement reads. “Our Mujahideen are not involved in this incident and neither are the Mujahideen allowed to carry out such…large explosions at ill-defined areas.” The Taliban’s spokesman says the group “condemns every explosion and attack carried out against civilians, or in which civilians are harmed and [there is] no legitimate target.”

“Our countrymen must rest assured that the Kabul attack is not the work of Mujahideen,” Mujahid says.

The German government confirmed that the bombing was “carried out in the immediate vicinity” of its embassy. “It hit civilians and it hit those who are in Afghanistan to work with the people there on a better future for the country,” Germany’s minister of foreign affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, said in a statement. “It is particularly despicable that these people were targeted.” Gabriel said that German Embassy staff members were injured, but all of them “are now safe.” An Afghan security officer who was guarding the grounds wasn’t so lucky, as he was killed in the explosion.

BBC News reported that Mohammed Nazir, an Afghan driver who worked with the service’s journalists, was killed. Afghanistan’s ToloNews has also reported at least one death as a result of the bombing.

The Islamic State has carried out several high-profile attacks in Kabul this year.

On Feb. 7, the group launched a suicide bombing outside of the supreme court, killing at least 20 people.

Then, on Mar. 8, an Islamic State suicide team assaulted the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital in Kabul. According to the UN, the hospital is “the largest military medical facility in Afghanistan” and “treats sick and wounded members of the armed forces and their family members.” The jihadists dressed like hospital personnel in order to confuse their victims. There are conflicting reports with respect to the total number of casualties, but dozens were killed or wounded.

On May 3, another suicide bomber detonated his VBIED at an Afghan security checkpoint near the US Embassy in Kabul. The Islamic State’s jihadist was targeting a NATO convoy, but at least eight civilians were killed. Three coalition service members were also wounded, according to Resolute Support.

The US has been leading a counterterrorism operation against the Islamic State’s Wilyah Khorasan (or Khorasan province) in eastern Afghanistan. In April, three American service members were killed during raids in Nangarhar, which has been Wilayah Khorasan’s stronghold. The so-called caliphate’s men have lost ground in Nangarhar, but are still able to execute high-profile operations in Kabul and elsewhere. [For more on the US-led effort against the Islamic State’s Wilayah Khorasan, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: 2 American service members killed fighting Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Also see:

Erdogan Claims Victory in Referendum Making Him Dictator

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AP Photo)

PJ Media, by Rick Moran, April 16, 2017:

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is claiming victory in a referendum that will greatly expand his powers, changing the country from a nominal parliamentary democracy into a presidential dictatorship.

But opposition groups are protesting the vote, which resulted in a closer outcome than expected.

Erdogan will apparently be denied the decisive victory he sought, despite his crackdown on the opposition since the failed military coup last year.

Reuters:

Nearly all ballots had been opened for counting, state-run Anadolu news agency said, although a lag between opening and counting them could see the lead tighten even further.

Erdogan called Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the leader of the nationalist MHP party, which supported the “Yes” vote, to congratulate them, presidential sources said. They quoted Erdogan as saying the referendum result was clear.

The result appeared short of the decisive victory that Erdogan and the ruling AK Party had campaigned aggressively for. In Turkey’s three biggest cities – Istanbul, Izmir and the capital Ankara – the “No” camp appeared set to prevail narrowly, according to Turkish television stations.

Addressing a crowd outside the AKP’s headquarters in Ankara, Yildirim said unofficial tallies showed the “Yes” camp ahead.

“A new page has been opened in our democratic history,” Yildirim said. “We are brothers, one body, one nation.”

Convoys of cars honking horns in celebration, their passengers waving flags from the windows, clogged a main avenue in Ankara as they headed towards the AKP’s headquarters to celebrate. A chant of Erdogan’s name rang out from loud speakers and campaign buses.

A “Yes” vote would replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful presidency and may see Erdogan in office until at least 2029, in the most radical change to the country’s political system in its modern history.

The outcome will also shape Turkey’s strained relations with the European Union. The NATO member state has curbed the flow of migrants – mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq – into the bloc but Erdogan says he may review the deal after the vote.

The opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) said it would demand a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes, protesting against a last-minute decision by the electoral board to accept unstamped ballots as valid votes.

If you’re wondering how people could freely vote for dictatorship, this voter explains:

“I don’t think one-man rule is such a scary thing. Turkey has been ruled in the past by one man,” he said, referring to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Opponents say it is a step towards greater authoritarianism in a country where some 47,000 people have been jailed pending trial and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in a crackdown following a failed coup last July, drawing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups.

Erdogan will be no ordinary dictator. He is, first and foremost, an Islamist in the heart of democratic Europe. He will control a large, well-trained army equipped with the latest NATO weapons in one of the most strategically located countries in the world. It will be very difficult to fight ISIS and blunt Iran’s ambitions without Erdogan’s cooperation.

That’s why criticism from NATO and the U.S. for this power grab will be muted. As noted above, Turkey is also a key player in the refugee crisis. Erdogan could make the lives of EU leaders miserable if he opens the floodgates of migrants and allows passage through Turkey into the west.

In other words, Erdogan enjoys a considerable amount of leverage. How he uses it will impact the security of NATO and the U.S.

Also see: