Turkey’s volatile president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has issued statements attacking the Obama administration and its role in the Middle East. And his allies in Turkey have followed suit. Such outbursts may well signal the end of NATO’s role in the conflict in Syria, as well as the beginning of new Turkish offensives against Kurdish-led anti-terrorist forces there. At the same time, the mainstream Arab press has confirmed details previously reported by The Canary of a secret plan to carve up Syria.
Turkey turning on its US allies?
On 2 January 2017, Daesh (Isis/Isil) claimed responsibility for the New Year’s Eve nightclub massacre in Istanbul which killed 39 people and injured many more. But on the same day, a pro-Erdoğan newspaper ran a story headlined The US are the main suspect:
Today's headline of the pro-government daily Yeni Akit: "The US are the main suspect" (behind the attack on Reina nightclub in Istanbul) pic.twitter.com/Hu02DcW4ee
— Turkey Untold (@TurkeyUntold) January 2, 2017
Numerous cartoons in the Turkish media have also suggested that the US is behind Daesh. This is incredibly ironic considering the longstanding allegations of Turkey’s own support for the terror group.
On 27 December, meanwhile, The Independent published an article headlined Erdoğan says he has evidence US-led coalition has given support to Isis. The article referred to the following statement from Erdoğan:
Now they [US] give support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD.
The Independent failed to point out, however, that Erdoğan’s statement conflated Daesh terrorists with the secular and Kurdish-led YPG, which has been at the forefront of the fight against Daesh in Syria. And the PYD (Democratic Union Party) is not even a militia, but a political party.
Recent US support for the YPG has been no secret, meanwhile. Some US special forces have indeed been working with the militia for a number of months in its battle against Daesh.
US policy almost certainly did pour fuel on the fire in Syria originally, though. An email from private intelligence company Stratfor, released by WikiLeaks, suggests that coalition special forces have been present in Syria since 2011:
they said without saying that SOF teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce [Reconnaissance] missions and training opposition forces.
And in May 2015, Nafeez Ahmed reported on a US Defense Intelligence Agency document suggesting that the US, Gulf states and Turkey did nothing to discourage the rise of Daesh, which they saw as a useful force to destabilise the Assad regime. Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism officer, said:
The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion [namely, the emergence of ISIS ] but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, turned a blind eye to oil deals with Daesh. And in August 2016, leaked documents [pdf] showed how his government had provided Daesh fighters with fake IDs. So it is very ironic that he now appears to be accusing the US of supporting Daesh.
Turkey’s game plan
In August 2016, The Canary published details of a secret plan between Turkey, Russia, Syria, and Iran. Some four months later, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat confirmed [translation] these details.
The plan was partly about shoring up Assad’s power in Syria. But it was also about ensuring Kurdish-led advances in northern Syria would not further encourage the fight for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey – where the Turkish state is currently waging war on its Kurdish communities.
In December 2016, Turkish-backed jihadis in Syria finally accepted a ceasefire. Thousands of civilians were finally evacuated after weeks of sustained attacks by both Islamist militias and Syrian government forces supported by Russia.
But the YPG-led and multi-ethnic SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) were not part of this deal. So while the media focused on the tragedy unfolding in eastern Aleppo, Turkey took the opportunity to attack Kurdish-led forces, continuing its months-long offensive.
Erdoğan’s hypocritical remarks about the US show that he intends to completely isolate the Kurdish-led forces in Syria. Even as they are militarily weakening Daesh. He may hope that, after the defeat of Daesh, a more isolationist and pro-Russian US under Donald Trump will withdraw from the Middle East; leaving Turkey to pick up the spoils.
This would leave Turkey as the dominant force in the region. And it would possibly make territorial gains in both Syria and Iraq. It would also mean that Erdoğan could further expand his purge of opposition forces in Turkey, which has already resulted in the imprisonment of just under 83,000 people, including over 140 journalists.
Yet Europe and the West generally appear unable to stop Erdoğan. Largely because they are war-weary and fear even more refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East.
In short, despite attempts of legal action against Erdoğan for alleged war crimes, the West seemingly prefers his ‘stable’ but authoritarian regime; even if that means sacrificing Kurdish communities to more genocides and subjecting the people of Turkey to his dictatorial whims.
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Featured image via Flickr Creative Commons
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