Following the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida — and other recent attacks seen around the world, including Europe — one might naively assume eliminating support for Islamist militants in the Middle East would be at the top of the list of issues that need to be addressed. According to a recent report by RT’s Lizzie Phelan, however, this is not the case.
Turkey openly supports Islamist militants in Syria — and this has been going on for years. These militants have ties to al-Sham, who have ties to al-Qaeda, who have ties to ISIS. Al-Sham has been documented carrying out atrocities against civilians in Syria as recently as May 2016, but the NATO establishment still refuses to classify them as a terrorist group — despite the fact they have been openly fighting alongside al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. As Turkish journalist Fehim Tastekin, who writes for Al-Monitor, told RT, “Al-Nusra uses other groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham, as proxies to distribute weapons ‘coming from Turkey.’”
How can this be?
Turkey has a dark and largely ignored history of providing overt support to militants trying to overthrow the al-Assad regime in Syria. This support goes further than merely offering funding and weaponry; according to the RTreport, one fighter detailed how Turkey allowed him to seamlessly cross the border between Turkey and Syria every two weeks.
The full extent of this cooperation between Turkey and Islamist militants — especially those who fight for ISIS — is outlined in a research paper by David L. Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. As he explains, the fact that foreign militants refer to the Turkish border as the “gateway to Jihad” should tell us something about the manner in which the border has been controlled — if it has been controlled at all. The paper further explains that “Turkish army soldiers either turn a blind eye and let them pass, or the jihadists pay the border guards as little as $10 to facilitate their crossing.”
This is not something that has happened without the knowledge of the Turkish regime. After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, the Libyan armories were looted, and tons of weaponry were transported into Syria through Turkey. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, this transport route was referred to by the CIA as a “rat line.” Funding for this project mainly came from Turkey, which also facilitated the supply line itself. By cutting off this supply line, Turkey alone could be the sole destroyer of ISIS — yet to this day, nothing has been done to stop the smuggling of fighters, weapons and money.
But at least since then, Turkey has been heavily involved in combating ISIS militarily… right?
So far, the only group Turkey has actively bombed is the Kurdish militant group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – the same militants President Obama has designated the most effective fighting force on the ground for combating ISIS.
Further, one report detailed how ISIS fighters were transported into Turkey to receive costly medical attention. This is to say nothing of Turkey’s illicit oil trade with ISIS, which was only brought to light when Russian warplanes began targeting oil tankers heading into Turkey in order to cut off ISIS’ main financial supply.
How did Turkey respond to this? By shooting down a Russian warplane, because according to them, it had violated Turkish airspace for a mere 17 seconds. They didn’t launch any investigations into the purchasing of ISIS oil, they didn’t start bombarding the tankers – they did nothing but shoot down the very people trying to cut off one of the main sources of ISIS’ financial support. The revenue brought in through the illicit sale of this oil was previously estimated at being $50 million per month.
Turkey is a NATO ally, meaning any further engagement between Turkey and Russia could have required an all out war between Russia and NATO. Turkey was willing to risk this unthinkable scenario to protect their own interests in the region. Considering the evidence cited above, it’s clear Turkey’s main interest in Syria is to provide dedicated and unfaltering support for Islamist militants who are fighting against the Syrian regime. Therefore, Turkey risked a hot war with Russia simply to stop Russia from cutting off their support to Islamist militants, including ISIS. When it became clear the Syrian regime, with Russian and Iranian support, was about to retake Aleppo earlier this year — cutting off one of Turkey’s main supply lines — Turkey’s next response was to threaten to send in ground troops.
This gives an idea of how important Turkey — and the NATO establishment — view support for Islamist militants to be, given that Turkey is willing to risk a global conflict when their support for these militants appears to be in dire threat. At no stage has President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even expressed a desire to fight against ISIS. In fact, fighting alongside ISIS seems to be his main agenda.
The idea that Turkey is governed by a friendly, peaceful, and liberal regime — as many Westerners believe — is simply not tenable. President Erdogan has done more in his fight against the free press — by cracking down on journalists — than he has in the fight against ISIS. In March of this year, Erdogan closed down the most widely-circulated newspaper in the country, Zaman. This aversion to independent reporting, which challenges his quest for regional hegemony, casts doubt on the story of Serena Shim, an American journalist who was killed in a car crash in Turkey just days after claiming she had been threatened by Turkish authorities over her reports in Kobani, Syria. In her reporting, Shim claimed she saw ISIS fighters being smuggled into Turkey and as a result, she may have paid a heavy price.
The Turkish role in the Syrian conflict is purely political. Islamist militants are strategically vital in order for Turkey to carry out its political agenda in the region, and this is why Turkey continues to support them today. The fact that NATO countries stay silent on Turkey’s support for ISIS and its affiliates reveals their actual agenda regarding Syria.