Turkey’s double standard on terrorism foils US efforts to counter the menace

The US must stop allowing Turkey to choose Washington’s enemies in the Middle East or face failure in its counter-terrorism efforts and lose credibility as a world leader. While Turkey is selfishly pursuing its national goals amid the Middle East crisis, the US is focused on maintaining relationship with its so called allies to the detriment of its national interests including security.

On May 27, America once again capitulated to Turkey’s tantrums regarding support for forces that are battling Islamic State (IS).

US commandos are currently advising the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) consisting of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, Turkmen and Circassian fighters in northern Syria.

US troops with YPG badges
US troops with YPG badges

On Thursday, photos surfaced of US troops sporting the Kurdish YPG insignia on their uniforms, a standard operating procedure when they are embedded with local troops to blend in and enhance their own protection.

However, Turkey’s AKP regime immediately attacked Washington for “unacceptable” behavior and “applying double standards” in not recognizing YPG as terrorists, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hurling insults that US commandos should also wear IS and Boko Haram patches.

In face of this vitriol, Washington submitted to AKP’s orders and commanded the Special Forces to remove the insignia, thereby marking them as US troops and compromising their security.

Unfortunately, this pattern of allowing Turkey to define who should be America’s friends and foes is severely degrading US counter-terrorism efforts.

Buchanan’s warning

On observing Turkey’s insistence that Kurdish groups such as YPG and others are unpalatable allies for the US in its efforts to combat IS, and its attempts to replace them with al-Qaeda-laced jihadi groups, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan in July 2015 warned the Obama administration that “We must stop allowing our friends to choose our enemies in the Middle East.”

Buchanan noted that the Iraqi Kurds have been loyal friends of the US since Desert Storm and the Syrian Kurds YPG have been effective fighting boots on the ground against IS. As such, this renders them “de facto allies no matter what the Turks say,” while “our enemies are al-Qaeda, which slaughtered 3,000 of our people, and its progeny. Our enemies is IS, which has beheaded Americans, and threatens us, our allies and friends.”

Buchanan continued: “Turkey’s actions demonstrate, as do those of other allies in the region, that their enemies are not always our enemies, and that, as they single-mindedly pursue their national goals, so should we.”

Indeed, Turkey has been pursuing its own interests and supporting groups — including Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Nusra/Al Qaeda affiliates, and Turkistan Islamic Party — that are designated terrorists by countries such as Egypt, Israel, China, Russia, the EU and the US.

Egypt’s terrorists

While Ankara expresses outrage toward any sympathy and support for PKK and YPG, it seems to have no qualms in supporting Egypt’s designated terrorist group Muslim Brotherhood, which is also recognized as such by Russia and other Arab Gulf states.

In fact, the Brotherhood has set up television stations in Ankara with commentators delivering ominous predictions of violence in Egypt, and Cairo accusing Ankara of working with IS on the Sinai Peninsula to destabilize Egypt.

Moreover, on 23 July 2015, Cairo identified four agents with Turkey’s intelligence agency MiT (Colonel Ismail Aly Bal and operatives Diaa El Din Mehmet Gado, Bakoush Al Hussaini Youzimi and Abd Allah Al Turki), who were linked to IS affiliate in Sinai Ansar Beit Al Maqdis (Champions of Jerusalem) that also calls itself Wilayat Sinai, or Sinai Province. Egyptian officials contend Turkish weapons show up in the hands of Ansar Beit Al Maqdis militants.

Israel’s terrorists

Turkey also supports the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian arm Hamas whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

In early 2015 amid reports Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal would be expelled from Qatar, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared he would be welcome in Turkey whenever he wants.

This prompted then State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki to warn “Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization…we continue to raise our concerns about the relationship between Hamas and Turkey with senior Turkish officials, including after learning of Mashaal’s recent visit there”—in reference to Turkey hosting Mashaal’s December visit to an AKP congress in Konya. Mashaal was seen holding hands with the recently ousted Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (L) with former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (L) with former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu

German politician Volcker Beck also warned that “a Turkey that sees itself as a partner of Hamas is not a partner of D [Germany] or the EU” and is likely an increasingly illegitimate NATO member, as Israel lodged a complaint to NATO on Turkey providing a base for Hamas to set up headquarters and coordinate attacks against the Jewish state from there.

US/EU’s terrorists

Ankara also supports al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. On 24 August 2015, Syrian rebels revealed Turkish intelligence tipped Al-Qaeda in Syria (Nusra) to US trained fighters when they entered Syria, and enabled Nusra to snatch many of the 54 graduates of the now defunct $500 million program.

An unnamed officer of Division 30, the rebel group the captured unit was supposed to join, revealed “only the Americans and the Turks knew about the plans for the train-and-equip fighters to enter Syria.”

Captain Ammar al Wawi, spokesman for Division 30, refused to say Turkey had betrayed the operation though he corroborated that only Turkey and the US were aware of the details of the plan to enter Syria.

An official from southern Turkey said Ankara leaked the information to Nusra to sabotage the train-and-equip program, hoping the rapid disintegration of the program would force the Americans into expanding the training and arming of Turkey’s rebel groups focused on toppling Assad rather than IS.

Indeed, America is expanding support for Turkey’s anti-Assad Army of Conquest (Jaish al Fath), a jihadi witches brew of al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham and other al-Qaeda affiliates responsible for the massacring of other religious and ethnic minorities in the region.

To add insult to injury, Ankara also dismisses the fact that Al Qaeda has the blood on its hands of over 3,000 Americans in 9/11, almost 5,000 American troops in Iraq and over 2,000 US troops in Afghanistan, as well as being a designated terrorist organization in US, EU and various other countries.

China’s terrorists

The Chinese are also outraged at Turkey’s support for anti-Chinese militants, as Ankara’s Army of Conquest includes the al-Qaeda affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party.

jaish-600x270The party has claimed responsibility and expressed support for a number of high-profile terrorist attacks in China, including the Kunming train station attack that China dubs its 9/11.

Moral hazard of backing AKP regime

In a recent Brookings article entitled, “How America enables its allies’ bad behavior”, Jeremy Shapiro and Richard Sokolsky pointed out how Washington has become so focused on maintaining relationship with so called allies that it has forgotten the original purpose of the relationship —securing US interests.

They observed how many US allies are highly dependent on US support —military, economic, diplomatic and intelligence. Yet more often, it is America “that performs the awkward gymnastics, bending over backward to keep relations smooth and assistance flowing.”

Moreover, this creates a moral hazard wherein US enables its client states’ bad behavior and protects them from paying the consequences of their mischief, to the detriment of US national security.

One such example they noted is US support for Saudi’s indiscriminate bombardment in Yemen that has killed more than 3,000 civilians, displaced 1.3 million others, and empowered Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that threatens the US homeland.

Now US support for Turkey-backed al-Qaeda-laced jihadists is degrading the US-led anti-IS coalition, empowering both Al Qaeda and IS, and destroying US credibility as a leader for global counter-terrorism.

In the face of current costs outweighing the benefits of some of these alliance relations, it may behoove Washington to re-evaluate its alliance structure in the changing Middle East.

As for Turkey’s fury over US troops wearing YPG badges to fight IS while it is supporting so many of other countries’ terrorist groups, one wonders if perhaps Ankara should first modify its own behavior before accusing others of supporting terrorism.

Article first published in Asia Times on May 31, 2016.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a California-based academic and consultant specializing in China-Mediterranean/Middle East relations. She has extensive US government experience working on China security issues, including policy planning at the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and National Security Council--where she also worked on CFIUS cases.
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