Turkey Exposed US Base Locations to ISIS

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, July 19, 2017:

The latest case for why the United States cannot and should not be a member of any military alliance that includes an Islamic terror state. In this case, we have one Islamic terror state passing information to another Islamic terror state against an infidel enemy.

Our “Turkish allies” against Islamic terror are as trustworthy as our “Pakistani allies” were. 

In the latest display of Turkish anger at U.S. policy in Syria, the state news agency has divulged the locations of 10 U.S. military bases and outposts in northern Syria where the U.S. is leading an operation to destroy the so-called Islamic State in its self-styled capital of Raqqa.

The list published by the Anadolu news agency points to a U.S. presence from one end to the other of the Kurdish self-administration region—a distance of more than 200 miles. The Anadolu news agency even listed the number of U.S. troops in several locations and in two instances stipulated the presence of French special forces.

Although Turkey’s powerful president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, regularly vents his anger at the U.S., it is still highly unusual for a NATO ally to reveal details of a U.S. military deployment during active operations in a war zone.

The publication is certain to spark ire in the U.S. military, which is leading the operation against ISIS.

Spokesmen for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, and for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, asked The Daily Beast not to publish the detailed information reported by Anadolu.

“The discussion of specific troop numbers and locations would provide sensitive tactical information to the enemy which could endanger Coalition and partner forces,” wrote Col. Joe Scrocca, coalition director of public affairs.

“Publishing this type of information would be professionally irresponsible and we respectively [sic] request that you refrain from disseminating any information that would put Coalition lives in jeopardy.”

But that was Turkey’s goal.

Once upon a time, Turkey had a free press. Successive crackdowns by the Islamic terror regime of Erdogan has eliminated a free press. The Anadolu Agency these days churns out Erdogan’s Great Leader propaganda. It’s part of the government media and it’s highly likely that this would not have been published without government prompting.

The United States should take steps to punish Turkey for endangering our national security. The question is can such measures get past Tillerson and McMaster? Or will we keep mouthing empty nonsense that the Turkish Islamic terror state is our ally.

Red Lines in Syria

Front Page Magazine, by Kenneth  R. Timmerman, July 19, 2017:

Suleymania, Iraq – With Saturday’s bombing of Afrin, a town controlled by America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, Turkey appears to have crossed a line.

Turkish artillery pounded the Ashrafiyeh neighborhood near the city center as well as surrounding villages. Reports from the region said the Turkish attack killed five civilians, including an entire family that was buried alive in their own home, and damaged dozens of homes.

“This is considered the first targeting of the city since the start of Turkish preparations” to expand military operations in Northwest Syria last month, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Turkish attacks were not directed against ISIS or against any other Islamist group. The Turks targeted Afrin because it has become a key political hub for the Democratic Union Party of Syria, the YPD, which Turkey accuses of being part of the PKK.

I spoke with Asya Abdallah Osman, the co-president of the YPD, on the sidelines of a conference both of us were attending in Iraqi Kurdistan. She was visibly shaken when she called home and learned details about the civilian casualties in Afrin.

“We have been fighting [ISIS] because we as women do not want to be subjected to their inhumanity. But we need your help,” she said, meaning the United States. “We need no other. This is war and people are dying. It won’t be resolved by politics, only by hard power.”

She swept aside the Turkish allegations that the regional government of the YPD, and its associated militia, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), were controlled by the PKK, or that the PKK was using YPD territory to launch attacks into Turkey.

“We are an independent political party that belongs to Syria and to the Kurds. If the PKK has come to Syria, it’s because Turkey has forced them to come,” she said.

Turkey has long accused the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, or fighting a terrorist war against it, but also has been willing to negotiate with PKK leaders when it felt it could reach a deal to curtail the violence.

After Turkey violated a 2013 truce negotiated in Oslo that called for the PKK to remove its fighters from Turkey into northern Iraq, the PKK relocated remaining fighters into the Kurdish areas in Syria, known as Rojava.

Like most Kurds, Ms. Osman believes Turkey and its allies in the region do not want to see a successful democratic self-governing region in northern Syria, because it would encourage their own Kurds to seek greater autonomy.

“They accuse us of not being democratic, but we have allowed all political and ethnic groups to have representatives in the regional government. Our project is for all of Syria, not just Kurds,” she told me.

Ms. Osman traveled to Northern Iraq in a group of 65 Syrian Kurdish activists, representing nearly twenty political groups.

Normally, they would have entered Iraq via a pontoon bridge over the Tigris River at Semalka, in an area that has escaped the current fighting.

But the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq closed the border recently, forcing the Syrian pro-democracy delegates to make a dangerous 16-hour trek by foot across the only other border crossing into Iraq near Mount Sinjar, which is controlled by Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

“There is no Kurdish Regional Government,” Ms. Osman said dismissively. “There is only the KDP,” the Kurdish Democratic Party, dominated by President Massoud Barzani and his family.

She and other Kurdish activists at the weekend conference believe that Turkey pressured the Barzanis to close the Semalka border crossing in order to further isolate them. “Semulka is our only gate to the outside world,” she said. “When it is shut, we are closed off.”

She attributed claims that the YPD and its militia were controlled by the PKK to Turkish propaganda. “Of course, we have dialogue with other Kurdish parties, including the PKK. So do most Kurdish groups in the region. But we run our party and our administration ourselves. We elect our own officials and they take orders from no one.”

Indeed, I only learned after the conference that a member of the PKK central committee had attended the weekend event, sponsored by the Kurdistan National Congress, where three hundred delegates from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey strategized over a future Kurdish state or confederation.

There were few references to the PKK by the speakers, and the PKK central committeeman himself never spoke. The final declaration of the conference makes no mention of the PKK.

Both President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis have warned Turkey not to attack America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. Turkey has blithely ignored those admonishments until now.

Less than a month after President Trump at the White House personally rejected Erdogan’s demand that the U.S. drop support for the Syrian Kurds, Turkey began moving troops to encircle Afrin, the political capital of the Syrian Kurdish region, and other Kurdish controlled areas.

After Turkey started to attack YPG positions in late June, Secretary of Defense James Mattis upped the ante by declaring that the United States might allow the Kurdish group to keep U.S. supplied weapons after the battle for Raqqa to smash ISIS was over.

Some of Erdogan’s erstwhile political allies believe he Erdogan is playing a dangerous game.

Even before the Turkish attacks on civilians over the weekend, former Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, who helped found Erdogan’s ruling AKP party, counseled against attacking the Syrian Kurds.

“The best course would be to negotiate a deal with the Syrian Kurds, persuade them not to attempt to change the ethnic composition of the region, and establish – preferably in cooperation with the Syrian government – a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional democratic administration,” Yakis wrote in a column for Arab News.

That is precisely the project Ms. Osman and the YPD have been proposing.

Erdogan showed his arrogance in Washington when he calmly observed his bodyguards cross a Capitol Police barrier in May to viciously bludgeon opposition protestors with truncheons.

But by putting his forces in a position where they could potentially clash with U.S. military units assisting the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces, Erdogan has shown a reckless side as well.

Turkey has been warned twice. Will Afrin prove to be the third strike for Erdogan in Syria?

‘Turkey’s 9/11’: One Year Later, Turkish Embassy Uses Coup Anniversary to Target Gulen

Adelle Nazarian/Breitbart News

Breitbart, by Adelle Nazarian, July 15, 2017:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday, the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C. held a press conference to observe the one year anniversary of the failed coup that left nearly 250 people dead and thousands more injured.

Serdar Kilic, the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, described the failed coup as “Turkey’s 9/11.”

One year ago, he said, “members of the Fethullah Gulen terrorist organization” attempted to seize power from the Turkish government. “It was not a military coup, but the worst terrorist attack in the history of Turkish government,” he added, claiming, “There’s a general consensus in Turkey that Fethullah Gulen and his disciples were behind this heinous event. His desire to take control of the Turkish state was not secret in Turkey.”

The Turkish government has blamed Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who runs a charter school network, for the assassination of the Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara as well as the failed coup and a number of terrorist incidents. Erdogan’s government has taken legal action against 169,000 people since last year’s failed coup, which includes 50,000 individuals who were arrested, among them were 24 Governors and 169 Generals.

Breitbart News reported that “Independent data shows that 138,148 people have lost their government jobs at the national and local levels as a result of a post-coup purge by Erdogan.”

The nation’s secular opposition has galvanized against reforms that greatly expanded the government’s reach into citizens’ daily lives since the coup attempt. Last Sunday, a 25-day march for justice to end the state of emergency and express opposition to Erdogan wound down in Istanbul, with over 1.5 million people attending the closing event.

Turkey has been in a state of emergency since July 15, 2016. “All of these events are taken in complete transparency,” Ambassador Kilic claimed, citing a survey that he alleged proved 87.4 percent of the Turkish people say that the state of emergency did not affect their daily lives.”

The embassy featured a three-dimensional recreation of the failed Turkish coup.

Photos: Adelle Nazarian/Breitbart News

While the Turkish government has placed the blame squarely on Gulen, Turkish citizens and regional experts hold a variety of opinions on the matter.

“We think Gulen’s behind it,” Okan Altiparmak, 56, a filmmaker and an editor for the website Muslim World Today who lives in Turkey, told Breitbart News in a Skype interview early Saturday morning. “However, it appears that the Turkish government knew what was going to happen and decided to take advantage of it politically. They allowed it to happen to a certain extent and exploited it for political advantage.” He noted that “there are certainly elements that show that Gulenists were behind the attempted coup” and added, “the way I judge the coup was through the military victims in the Sledge Hammer case.”

Altiparmak said he has “no doubt” that Gulen infiltrated the Turkish government, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “They are also very active in the AKP, the ruling party.” However, he said Erdogan’s government “ha[s] not gone after the political arm of the Gulenist movement because it does not benefit Erdogan. Even the justice minister is a Gulenist.”

Altiparmak nonetheless pushed back against the ambassador’s statement about evidence, saying, “I have a friend in the U.S. consulate here. He said it’s all junk what the AKP presented them with. I believe the AKP does not want Gulen to come to Turkey.”

American officials have said they have found no evidence linking Gulen to the coup. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News’s Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, “I haven’t seen the evidence for that, that Gülen was involved in anything like that [the failed coup attempt].”

Last August, the AFP reported, “Turkey has submitted four extradition requests for the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen but offered no evidence tying him to last month’s failed coup, a senior US official said Wednesday.”

In March, the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (FCO) issued a report that stated, “There is a relative lack of hard, publicly-available evidence to prove that the Gulenists as an organization were responsible for the coup attempt in Turkey.” It added, “While there is evidence to indicate that some individual Gulenists were involved, it is mostly anecdotal or circumstantial, sometimes premised on information from confessions or informants, and is – so far – inconclusive in relation to the organization as a whole or its leadership.”

At the embassy event, Kilic expressed some frustration with the fact that Gulen has not yet been extradited to Turkey from the U.S. “It’s not moving as fast as the Turkish government would like it to move and there should be a legal case for extraditing him,” he said. “We have enough information to lead to his extraction.”

Akeel Abbas, a professor from Iraq who teaches at the American University of Iraq in Kurdistan, told Breitbart News that he is skeptical that Gulen was behind the failed Turkish coup. “It is not true probably,” he said, taking on a similar view to Altiparmak who believes the Turkish government had prior knowledge about the attempted coup.

Abbas noted his belief that “since the coup, Erdogan has actually been purging more Gulenists because it’s a state of emergency, so he suspended parts of the Constitution.” He added, “since the referendum vote took place in April, he can now appoint the top judges without going through parliament” due to his increased power. “Now he doesn’t even need to state of emergency and can use his constitutional powers.”

“Gulen and Erdogan were once close,” Abbas, who is Kurdish, said. “Gulen was at one point in allegiance with Erdogan. He helped Erdogan a lot, actually. Both were Islamists and are still Islamists.” He noted his view that “Gulen has a view about Islam that is, historically, reformist and he still continues to be a reformist. But when Gulen saw that Erdogan had turned autocratic, they parted ways. Erdogan became increasingly dictatorial. He had large popular support and the economy was booming and so he started cracking down on the Gulen movement and shutting down his schools and traditional bastions of power.”

He described Gulen as “a different version of the Muslim Brotherhood and CAIR. His target is the United States before Turkey, I believe,” he said, expressing his belief that Gulen’s charter schools are decoys to spread and indoctrinate youth.

During his talk Friday, Ambassador Kilic read some quotes he attributed to Gulen before showing a video clip of him saying those words:

In his own words, his instructions to his followers as early as the 1980s were, and I quote, ‘You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers…. until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere… You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power… Until that time, any step taken would be too early – like breaking an egg without waiting the full 40 days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside.’

Inside the Turkish embassy, several young Turkish men, of millennial age, were helping as volunteers with the virtual reality booth. Erdogan is quite popular among the youth in his country.

Gorkam Kaziltas, 19, who supports Erdogan, told Breitbart News he was in Istanbul at the time of the coup. He said of those who attempted to carry out the coup, “they are some Gulen people who infiltrated and are using the Turkish military clothes” because Gulen has “access and power” in Turkey.

Adelle Nazarian is a politics and national security reporter for Breitbart News. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Also see:

Analysis: Following the Qatar “Deal”

In this July 11, 2017, photo, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani sign a memorandum of understanding in Doha, Qatar. (Alexander W. Riedel/U.S. State Department via AP)

Security Studies Group, by Dr. Brad Patty, July 13, 2017:

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade on the nation of Qatar recently because of Qatar’s relationship with a number of terrorist and terror-supporting entities.  These nations demanded that Qatar adhere to a 13-point plan if the blockade was to be lifted.  The 13 points include some very important steps, but also some steps that no sovereign nation could ever agree to, as they would effectively make Qatar subordinate to the other nations.

The matter is important to the United States because we have major military installations in Qatar, as well as treaties that could shatter our alliance with the Gulf states if Qatar should end up at war with those states.  That would profit Iran, chief of all, as it would disrupt the alliance opposing Iranian attempts at regional hegemony.  (For a fuller background, see SSG’s earlier posts here and also here.)

This week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew to both Qatar and Saudi Arabia to try to resolve the crisis.  He was not successful.  He did obtain a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with Qatar that the Saudis apparently rejected.  (Here is Qatar’s own Al Jazeera on the topic.)  This MOU is not a treaty or a deal, but it is a commitment to terms that Qatar would accept if others accepted them.  The Saudis apparently didn’t find the terms acceptable, but since the United States signed the MOU as well as Qatar, the Saudis will likely propose new terms that incorporate the MOU but ask for a bit more.  This is diplomacy as deal-making, very much the way the Trump administration views diplomacy.

So, how to know if the final deal is a good one from the perspective of the United States?  Resolving the crisis on any terms defuses the bomb threatening to blow up our regional alliances, but not every such deal is going to address America’s core interests.  Our interests are not the same as those of any of the Arab nations, though some of them overlap.  Thus, it is not necessary to obtain a deal that forces Qatar to submit to the whole 13 point proposal.  A deal that compromises by allowing Qatar to retain its sovereignty, while obtaining the parts of the 13 points that are American interests, is acceptable.

There are really only two things that America needs to insist upon.

  1. A complete end to support for terrorism.  The MOU is supposed to have obtained some Qatari commitments on this score, but the exact terms are not known.  It is easy to say what acceptable terms would be, however.  The terms are acceptable if and only if they commit Qatar to opposing all terrorism, rather than allowing Qatar to retain certain favored terrorists.  Some of the groups are favorites of Iran, like Hezbollah.  The Qataris might wish to keep up good relations with Iran by allowing Hezbollah to continue to operate.  There may be other groups whose terrorist activities Qatar would like to overlook in order to maintain what it considers to be a useful relationship.

    That won’t do.  All terrorist groups must be included.  The 13 points contains a list of groups Qatar has worked with that should serve as a minimum rather than a maximum.  No terror support of any kind is tolerable.  We won’t know how good the deal is on this point until its terms are known.  Secretary Tillerson at least sounds like he knows that this is important in his public statements.  “The US has one goal: to drive terrorism off the face of the Earth,” Tillerson said, adding: “The president said every country has an absolute duty to make sure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil.”  We as citizens can judge whether he truly understands based on whether he allowed Qatar to carve out exceptions for some of the groups it has been hosting and financing.

  2. The second thing we must obtain is victory on breaking Qatari relations with Iran.  Iran has been making a major play to become the dominant power in the region since obtaining a de facto alliance with Russia in 2015.  This occurred immediately after the agreement to the “Iran Deal” on nuclear weapons, which gave Russia renewed confidence that Iran could be a major player on the world stage.  Russia subsequently deployed military forces to Syria alongside Iran following meetings in Moscow between Russia’s military leadership and Iran’s top unconventional warfare leader, Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

    This Russian-Iranian axis is seeking to peel Qatar off from the alliance represented by the blockading nations.  Iran has been providing aid and support to Qatar during the blockade, as has Turkey.  Turkey is a US NATO ally, but that nation has been trending toward the Russian axis as its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has slipped towards dictatorial rule.  The moves accelerated following the abortive coup attempt against Erdoğan, which he blamed on an opposition movement hosted by the United States.  Turkey’s role in supporting Qatar thus has to be read as a play at least friendly to the Russian/Iranian axis in the Middle East.  If Qatar can be pulled the rest of the way in, so that it becomes aligned with Iran rather than the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran will have won a major strategic victory in its efforts to become the local hegemony.

    Those are really the only two things that the United States needs from Qatar.  If an American-backed deal obtains those two things, while also resolving the crisis with the blockading nations, it is a big win for the United States.  Anything less than that is going to be harmful to American interests in small ways or large.

Dr. Patty advised US Army units in Iraq on information operations as part of more than a decade’s involvements in America’s wars. His work has received formal commendations from the 30th Heavy Brigade, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division. Dr. Patty holds his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Georgia.

***

Saudi Game of Thrones: King Appoints Son Crown Prince After Power Struggle

Saudi Interior Ministry via AP

Breitbart, by John Hayward, June 22, 2017:

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz made a surprise announcement on Wednesday morning that his son Mohammed bin Salman, 31, would become the new crown prince of the kingdom.

As it happens, Saudi Arabia already had a Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Nayef. Nayef is over 25 years senior to Mohammed bin Salman and was also the deputy prime minister and interior minister of Saudi Arabia. He was stripped of all these positions at once.

He appeared to handle his demotion quite well, having no doubt seen the writing on the wall ever since Salman became deputy crown prince. “I am content,” said Nayef to his replacement, as quoted by Al Jazeera. “I am going to rest now. May God help you.”

To the dismay of the Western world, Nayef was considered one of the most pro-American of the Saudi royal family. He received counterterrorism training from the FBI and Scotland Yard in the eighties, maintained good relations with U.S. officials, and was instrumental as both an operational leader and spokesman in the Saudi war against al-Qaeda after 9/11.

His commitment to fighting the terrorist group did not waver after a 2009 suicide bomb attack against him. The CIA was sufficiently impressed with his work to give him a counterterrorism medal in February, personally awarded by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been nicknamed “Mr. Everything” because he has been put in charge of just about everything in Saudi Arabia. He was the chief architect of the “Saudi Vision 2030” plan intended to make his country less dependent on oil money, a plan regarded as the biggest change to the Saudi economy in the country’s history.

Nayef, on the other hand, has been nicknamed “The Prince of Darkness” because of his role in Saudi intelligence. Saudi dissidents find nothing whimsical about the nickname, as they blame Nayef for using the al-Qaeda crackdown as a pretext for imprisoning the politically inconvenient.

The Saudi Vision 2030 plan put Mr. Everything at the helm of some $2 trillion in overseas investments on the reasonable proposition that breaking the country’s dependence on oil would involve buying a tremendous amount of stock in companies that do not sell oil and are not headquartered in Saudi Arabia. Among his many duties, Salman is the chairman of the national oil company, Saudi Aramco – the first member of the royal family to have such a direct role in managing the all-important corporation.

Mohammed bin Salman was popular when the reform program was launched, and he remains popular today. The UK Daily Mail notes that Saudi Arabia’s enormous youth population sees him as a rock star, a symbol of hope and prosperity for the future.

The Daily Mail floats rumors that Salman and Nayef were engaged in a fairly bitter power struggle behind the scenes, and it might not be over yet, even after the king moved to resolve it in Salman’s favor before his death. The deciding factor might simply have been that the king likes Salman better, and is impressed by his charisma, erudition, and 16-hour-day work ethic.

Another advantage to Salman is that his youth and energy suggest a certain stability for Saudi Arabia for decades to come. The previous king, Abdullah, was the world’s oldest monarch at the time of his death in early 2015 at age 90; King Salman is currently 81. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman puts a younger face on the monarchy and might well end up occupying the throne for five decades.

Middle East Eye cites analysts who say the king wanted to reassure Western governments, regional allies, and business partners there would be “continuity in foreign and economic policies.” There was evidently very little confidence that Nayef would have offered such continuity.

Also, Middle East Eye observes that Nayef had a testy relationship with a crucial Saudi ally, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, while Salman and Zayed have become close friends.

Most intriguingly, a Saudi citizen told MEE that President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia played a role in reshaping the monarchy, as King Salman took the occasion to convince Trump the new crown prince is “the right horse to back” despite Nayef’s favorable reputation in Washington.

The monarchy moved quickly to secure Salman in his new position, announcing that 31 of 34 royals supporting his ascension and arranging a meeting in Mecca for them to formally pledge allegiance within a matter of hours. The senior Islamic council swiftly endorsed the decision, followed by welcomes from the leaders of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim allies. The Saudi stock market added its congratulations by climbing over five and a half percent.

Some other Middle Eastern powers were less enthusiastic about the shift in Saudi leadership. Iranian state media grumbled that Crown Prince Salman’s ascension was a “soft coup” in which the “son becomes the successor of the father,” which would seem to betray a fundamental Iranian misunderstanding of how hereditary monarchy works.

Reuters suggests Iran correctly sees Salman’s ascension as a sign of more aggressive Saudi policy toward Tehran and its projects, such as the Houthi rebellion in Yemen and whatever the Qatari royal family has been up to for the past decade. Nayef’s focus was on al-Qaeda, while Salman has been an outspoken enemy of Iran, supporter of Saudi intervention in Yemen, and critic of Qatar. In fact, he is seen as one of the prime movers behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to isolate Qatar.

The Saudis will probably let Iran’s criticism roll off their backs, but Turkey is more problematic. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fairly close to Nayef but still working on building a relationship with Salman. It is not going terribly well, as Salman has refused every Turkish invitation to visit Ankara since he was named deputy crown prince.

Erdogan has expressed support for Qatar, putting it at odds with one of Salman’s major policy initiatives, and he disagrees with Salman’s dim view of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Middle East Eye cites Turkey-watchers who foresee a potentially serious conflict between Erdogan and Salman over Turkey’s least favorite Middle Eastern faction, the Kurds. Either as a power play, or because he sincerely favors their cause, Salman may support the Kurds in Syria – which would inflame Turkish fears of the Kurds carving out chunks of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq to form an independent state. Turkish media is reportedly speculating that Salman will threaten to put Saudi Arabia’s chips on the Kurds unless Erdogan backs away from supporting Qatar.

CNN notes that if Salman does succeed his father, he will be the first Saudi king who is not the son of national founder Ibn Saud, who became King Abdul Aziz al-Saud. Naming Mohammed bin Salman as his heir allowed King Salman to reshape the line of succession for decades, and perhaps centuries, to come.

It also puts Saudi Arabia more firmly under the guidance of the most liberal leader it has ever had, with respect to everything from women’s rights to representative government. Granted, that’s a fairly low bar to clear in one of the world’s most repressive countries, but it’s good to see a future king trying to clear it at a moment when the United States is realigning Middle East policy back toward Saudi Arabia and its allies

A Disappointing Silence on Erdogan’s Excesses

IPT NewsMay 18, 2017:

The man with the bullhorn already had been knocked to the ground, repeatedly kicked and beaten. Then the man with a mustache, wearing a sharp suit and a handgun on his hip, raced up and launched a fierce kick, hitting the man with the bullhorn square in the face.

The man with the bullhorn was protesting visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The man with the mustache is an Erdogan bodyguard. This beat-down, captured on video by the Voice of America, took place Tuesday, just 1.4 miles from the White House, where Erdogan met with President Trump.

Nine people were injured, including two who required hospitalization. A similar, but smaller brawl broke out last year when Erdogan was greeted by protesters outside a speech at the Brookings Institution.

The State Department issued a statement Wednesday saying it would tell the Turkish government that it is “concerned by the violent incidents …. Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest.”

It’s difficult these days for stories outside the White House’s struggle to contain the Russia investigation to gain much traction.

But events in and near the White House Tuesday should not get lost in the shuffle. Even without the violence by Erdogan’s goon squad, his White House visit should concern those who expected the Trump administration to follow through on its tough talk about confronting radical Islam.

For all the talk about naming radical Islamic terrorism where it exists, there appears to have been no mention of Turkey’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist offshoot Hamas. Rather, President Trump publicly lauded Erdogan, saying it was an honor to host him and that he looked forward to working together to create Middle East peace.

Erdogan is a favorite of U.S.-based Islamists, especially those with Muslim Brotherhood links, like Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Nihad Awad. That may be due, at least in part, to his view that Hamas is not a terrorist group, but a national liberation movement.

Erdogan provided a safe haven for Hamas operative Salah Arouri even after Arouri was implicated in the deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teens that led to the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. In that conflict, Erdogan predicted that Israel would “drown in the blood that they shed,” and likened the Jewish state to Adolph Hitler: “Just like Hitler tried to create a pure Aryan race in Germany, the State of Israel is pursuing the same goals right now.”

Arouri was asked to leave Turkey only last year, as part of an effort to restore diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey – relations Erdogan severed in 2010.

But that doesn’t mean Erdogan has turned a corner. In February, Turkey hosted a meeting of Hamas officials and affiliates. Last week, Erdogan repeated the baseless claim that Israel is an apartheid state, asking, “What’s the difference in Israel’s current practices from the racist and discriminatory policies implemented towards the blacks in America in the past, and in South Africa more recently?”

The ignorant talking point ignores the equal voting rights enjoyed by Israeli Arabs. The International Committee of the Red Cross rejected Erdogan’s rhetoric outright: “There isn’t a regime here that is based on the superiority of one race over another; there is no disenfranchisement of basic human rights based on so-called racial inferiority.”

In addition, Erdogan was slow to stem the tide of foreign fighters crossing his border in order to join ISIS in Syria. When he does act, he often targets U.S.-backed Kurdish forces fighting ISIS – a stateless minority Turkey oppresses.

While Erdogan and Trump praised each other publicly, ABC reports that “they made little progress to deal with their sharp differences on issues like terrorism and Syria.”

Erdogan, meanwhile, has purged tens of thousands of government employees, teachers and jailed scores of journalists in a clamp-down on any potential opposition. His crackdown is not limited to his own borders, as European critics have been targeted for arrest and surveillance.

Under his rule, Turkey’s secular education system has been weakened as religious training schools known as imam hatip grew more than 15 times in enrollment since 2003. His radical Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants Turkey to be governed by an Islamist authority that demands adherence to strict religious tenets.

The White House meeting lasted about 20 minutes, McClatchy reports. Beforehand, 81 members of Congress issued a statement urging the president to raise Erdogan’s human rights abuses in the meeting.

“Erdogan and his allies have mounted an assault on the rule of law, particularly using sweeping state of emergency authorities to stifle fundamental rights including free speech, undermine the independence of the judiciary, and quash any opposition to their undemocratic actions,” they wrote.

There is no indication whether that topic was discussed. After the meeting, Erdogan expressed appreciation for the president’s hospitality. That’s fine, but the failure to openly challenge Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist, authoritarian direction is disappointing. Turkey’s help is needed in the fight against ISIS. But if the United States intends to confront radical Islam, it missed a golden opportunity on Tuesday.

President Trump did ask that Turkey release jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, the White House readout of the meeting said. The two leaders also plan to meet again next week during the president’s first official international trip.

Unless he challenges Erdogan then, the lasting images of this will be the unprovoked violence Erdogan’s armed bodyguards inflicted on peaceful demonstrators in the heart of the nation’s capital instead of a direct and honest challenge to Erdogan’s ongoing and egregious support for Islamist terrorists.

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Trump Defies Turkey, Approves Heavy Weapons for Syrian Kurds

AFP

Breitbart, by John Hayward May 9, 2017:

In a decision bound to infuriate Turkey, a senior Trump administration official said that heavier weapons would be approved for Syrian Kurdish forces as they close in on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.

The anonymous senior official was quoted by the Associated Press as part of its coverage of Defense Secretary James Mattis’ meetings on Syria. NBC News published similar quotes by two unnamed defense officials, who said the Kurds could receive rifles, ammunition, armor, communications gear, and engineering equipment, delivered by ground convoys and air drops. NBC’s sources did not go into detail about what type of heavy weapons might be sent to the Kurds.

Military Times reported over the weekend that elite YPG fighters are already armed with advanced American combat gear, including night-vision goggles, digital camouflage, body armor, and the type of rifles used by American special operations forces. Photos of YPG commandos with American gear began appearing online during the battle to capture the strategic town of Tabqa, west of Raqqa, in late March.

U.S. military officials have only acknowledged supplying the YPG with Russian-made weapons, such as the ubiquitous AK-47 rifle. Officials “offered only ambiguous responses” when asked how the Kurdish fighters acquired American gear. Military Times anticipated Turkey would be “infuriated.”

Dana White, chief spokeswoman for the Defense Department, issued a statement on Tuesday formally acknowledging President Trump’s decision:

Yesterday, the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.

We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey. We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.

The U.S. continues to prioritize our support for Arab elements of the SDF. Raqqa and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs.

The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but will ultimately be yet another defeat for ISIS, and another step toward eliminating the ISIS threat to peace and security in the region and the world.

Turkey’s response will largely depend on whether they acknowledge a significant difference between the Kurdish YPG militia and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of Arabs, Assyrians, and other groups led by the Kurds against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Syrian regime.

American analysts have expressed a high degree of confidence in the training, discipline, and fighting ability of the SDF. The U.S. military has such a good relationship with the SDF that some American soldiers participated in an SDF ceremony recently at which some 250 female veterans of the YPG militia were inducted into Syrian Democratic Forces ranks.

The U.S. Central Command reportedly sent Mattis a request last week asking to arm the Kurds. Defense officials and analysts said Mattis and President Trump were likely to approve the plan, which envisioned a mixed Kurdish and Arab force supported by American artillery and airstrikes to push ISIS out of Raqqa. The Obama administration also believed Kurdish troops would be key to recapturing the city, but President Barack Obama was said to be reluctant to approve the plan for Raqqa so close to Trump taking office.

Reuters described Mattis as “upbeat” after meeting with a Turkish official in Copenhagen, Denmark on Tuesday. Mattis said the administration intended to “work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it.”

However, U.S. officials said Mattis was not signaling a new agreement with Turkey about the battle plan for Raqqa, and maintained the Trump administration is skeptical of Turkey’s claims that it can manage the liberation of Raqqa without Kurdish help.

Turkey adamantly insists that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia is allied with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, a Kurdish separatist organization that both Turkey and the United States classify as terrorist in nature. On the other hand, the U.S. views the YPG as an invaluable battlefield ally against the Islamic State, and quietly rejects Turkish characterizations of the Syrian Kurdish militia as an offshoot of the PKK.

Turkey has not merely been critical of the YPG – it has attacked Kurdish positions in Syria, prompting military responses from the Kurds. One of Turkey’s professed strategic goals in Syria is preventing the Kurds from annexing all or part of Raqqa. Kurdish leaders have said that if the people of Raqqa wish to join their autonomous “democratic federal” system after the Islamic State is defeated, that would be fine with them.

The U.S. military has been patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to discourage further Turkish attacks on the Kurds. Turkish officials have suggested they might not care if American troops get in the way during their next operation against the YPG.

Mattis also said that he was reviewing the Russian proposal to create “safe zones” for refugees in Syria, a proposal co-sponsored by Turkey and Iran.

“It’s all in process right now,” Mattis said en route to Copenhagen Monday. “Who is going to be ensuring they’re safe? Who is signing up for it? Who is specifically to be kept out of them? All these details are to be worked out and we’re engaged.”

Mattis said another important consideration was whether the safe zone proposal would affect the battle against the Islamic State – a distinct possibility, since the safe zones are supposed to be no-fly zones for all military aircraft, including those belonging to the United States and its anti-ISIS coalition partners.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump on May 16. Erdogan has already suggested the American alliance with Syrian Kurds would be the top item on the agenda.

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