Is Turkey Really Supporting an Al-Qaeda-Linked Group?

The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. This is the case in Syria, anyway. One militant group in the war against the Assad regime in Syria has pulled forward to prominence alongside the Free Syria Army, Jabhat al-Nusra. The problem with this group, which was born in the war in Syria, is that in May of this year it pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Seeing that neither side in the war in Syria is a friend of ours, it makes sense that the U.S. doesn't want to touch the war with a ten-foot pole. Turkey, being a border country, doesn't have that luxury.

To add more confusion to the situation, the Kurds are caught in the middle. As I reported last month, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish party with ties to the terrorist organization, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has a presence in northern Syria that threatens Turkey. The leader of the PYD, Saleh Muslim, recently confirmed "there was a transfer of weapons and ammunition from Turkey to Syria through the Karkamis border gate in the southeastern province of Gaziantep on the night of August 2." The weapons were then transported to Arab villages near a Kurdish town, with the supposed ultimate goal of attacking the Kurdish town.

This has occurred despite the promises made by the Turkish government that it would not aid al-Qaeda militants in any way. In Saleh Muslim's interview, he stated that the support given to Jabhat al-Nusra might be the work of "deep forces" within the Turkish state. This not-so-veiled reference to the Turkish "deep state" introduces a whole new layer of murkiness and confusion. The deep state is an alleged cabal of top-level ministers and politicians who secretly run Turkish politics in an anti-democratic way. Basically, they are everyone's bogeyman.

In addition to the weapons and ammunition crossing the Turkish border into the conflict in Syria, militants have also been crossing. These anti-Assad militants come from as far afield as "Europe, the Caucasus, Afghanistan and North Africa." The wounded among these militants have also found safe haven in Turkish hospitals, the anonymous source from this article claims.

If Turkey is to be taken seriously as a staunch ally against terrorism, it should devote more resources and attention to shutting down its border with Syria to militants and weapons for militants. Naturally, as I argued earlier, it should open its border to more refugees (provided the resources to house them exist), but this would be a one-way border crossing. Ceasing any possibility to help Jabhat al-Nusra would also help the Kurdish peace process since al-Nusra is an enemy of the Kurdish groups.

Thankfully, the role for the U.S. is minimal here. It may be a horrifying and complicated situation on the ground, but the U.S. has much to lose and little to gain, realistically, by intervening in any way. Therefore, it should continue its course of non-involvement in the Syrian civil war.

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Eric Tillberg

I graduated from Oberlin College in 2007 with degrees in Art History and Music Performance (double bass). Currently studying International Relations at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, I'm interested in Turkey and the Turkic world. I play Go at the KGS 6k level and am an avid fan of the board game Diplomacy.

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