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Erdogan: Turkish operation in Syria will continue to Raqqa

Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army advance towards the centre of al-Bab town of Aleppo during the 171th day of the "Operation Euphrates Shield" in Aleppo, Syria on February 10, 2017 [Muhammed Nour / Anadolu Agency]

Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army advance towards the centre of al-Bab town of Aleppo during the 171th day of the “Operation Euphrates Shield” in Aleppo, Syria on February 10, 2017

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the final goal of a Turkish military incursion into Syria was not just to retake the city of al-Bab from Daesh, but to cleanse a border region including Raqqa of the terrorist group.

“The ultimate goal is to cleanse a 5,000-square-km area,” Erdogan told a news conference before his departure on an official visit to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Turkey has long advocated a “safe zone” for civilians in northern Syria cleared of Daesh militants and the Kurdish YPG militia, but says such an area would need to be policed by a no-fly zone.

Read: Assad rejects safe zones proposal

Erdogan said he had discussed this again with the United States and Russia and that Turkey was prepared to do the infrastructure work in the zone, to help prevent migration from Syria and allow those who had fled to Turkey to go home.

Raqqa should be isolated by spring – UK minister

(Source / 12.02.2017)

Turkey: Daesh terror plot against Europe thwarted

Turkish court remands two Danish and Swiss citizens allegedly plotting to carry out ‘sensational’ attack in Europe

An illustration of Daesh's flag taken on February 18, 2016. [REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/]

An illustration of Daesh’s flag taken on February 18, 2016

A Turkish court has remanded in custody two Daesh suspects allegedly planning to carry out a “sensational” attack in Europe, a judicial source said.

Lebanese origin Danish citizen Mahamad Laban and Iraqi origin Swiss citizen Mohammed Tofik Saleh were initially detained by Adana police in the city’s Seyhan district earlier this month, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Following a ten-day long interrogation, the suspects were brought in front of an Adana court on Friday and sent back into custody, the source added.

Laban, 45, and Saleh, 34, traveled to Syria via Turkey in 2014 to join Daesh, according to Adana police department.

The suspects reportedly initially told the inspectors that they travelled to Syria from Europe to provide humanitarian aid, but after a wider investigation, police found out that the suspects had taken intensive arm and explosive training in the last three months.

Police also confiscated digital materials from Laban, including several pictures with military camouflage and Kalashnikov rifles believed to be taken with Daesh members in Syria.

The interrogation also revealed that Saleh traveled to Turkey with his wife, Fatime, and two daughters in 2014. The family then crossed into Syria while mother Fatime returned to Sweden and filed a legal complaint with the authorities claiming her husband had travelled to Syria to join Daesh.

(Source / 12.02.2017)

Turkish Forces Neutralize 18 ISIL Terrorists in Northern Syria

Turkish warplane

Turkish warplane

A total of 18 terrorists of the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) takfiri group were “neutralized” in northern Syria over the last 24 hours as part of the ongoing Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turkish military said Monday.

Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the extremists in question were either killed or captured.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said a total of 180 ISIL targets including shelters, defense positions, command control centers, weapons and vehicles were hit with tanks and multiple-launch rocket launchers.

Separately, Turkish jets destroyed 8 other ISIL targets including headquarters and vehicles used by the terrorists in air raids on al-Bab region, the statement added.

The Turkish army is supporting Free Syrian Army fighters in liberating Al-Bab from the ISIL group. Monday marks the 146th day since the city was surrounded in order to liberate it.

The operation is part of the Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield, which began in late August to improve security, support coalition forces, and eliminate the threat along Turkey’s border using gunmen of the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’ backed by Turkish artillery and jets.

In total, 43 landmines and 2,933 improvised explosive devices have been defused since the start of the operation on Aug. 24.

(Source / 16.01.2017)

Al-Qaeda jihadists deny involvement in killing of Russian ambassador

By Wladimir van Wilgenburg

isis_militants-620x412.jpg

Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian jihadists in latest issue of the al-Risala magazine denied any link to the killing of the Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara, who was killed last month while giving a speech at an art gallery.

Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty police officer, killed the Russian ambassador on 19 December. However, it remain unclear which group was behind the murder, or if the assassination was an individual act.

The al-Risala magazine published by jihadists closed to al-Qaeda in Syria suggest it was an individual act of revenge for the killing of Muslims by the Russians in Aleppo.

“Thus, contrary to the claims of the disbelievers, it is clear that Mevlüt (may Allãh have mercy on him and accept him) was responding to the cries of the oppressed Muslims of Syria. He did not belong to ISIS or Jabhatu An-Nusra or any other group operating in the region,” the magazine said.

“Rather, what is apparent from his speech and actions (as no one but Allãh has access to his heart) is that he had renounced his former profession and turned to his Lord in repentance. He stood up, not for any particular group or sect, but on behalf of the Ummah that has been suffering at the hands of its enemies for decades,” the jihadist al-Risala magazine added.

“As the tragedy in Aleppo unfolded, Russia remained as committed as ever to aiding the Syrian regime and her allies as they continued their massacre of the innocent Muslims of Aleppo, while arrogantly denying any wrongdoing on their part,” it suggested.

Turkish state media blamed the assassination of Karlov on the Fethullah Gulen sect that follows Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States. The Turkish authorities also blamed the Gulen movement for the failed military coup in July 2015.

Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi, a research fellow at the Middle East Forum–a US think tank– told ARA News that it’s unlikely the killer had any links to militant groups. “He genuinely had no connection to them,” he said.

(Source / 11.01.2017)

‘Working Journalists Day’ adds insult to injury for Turkish press

Demonstrators protest the arrest of three prominent press freedom activists, in central Istanbul, June 21, 2016

“Working Journalists Day,” celebrated Jan. 10 in Turkey, is meant to honor the rights of reporters and other media workers in the country. While the press has never been really free in Turkey, rarely have conditions for journalists in Turkey been as bleak as they are today.

With over 100 journalists currently behind bars, Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, outranking China and Egypt, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres.

Media bosses buckling under government pressure continue to fire critical reporters and columnists — around 10,000 Turkish journalists are unemployed — leaving an ever shrinking number of “working journalists” to celebrate today.

“For two months our one and only son has been pining for his father’s face,” tweeted Nazire Kalkan Gursel, the wife of Kadri Gursel, a fellow Al-Monitor columnist and one of Turkey’s best-respected journalists. He is among scores of journalists in pre-trial detention for articles or tweets deemed threatening to the Turkish state.

Gursel’s “crime” was to have “subliminally” encouraged the failed July 15 coup in a column for the leftist Cumhuriyet in which he mentioned Ali Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire and is credited for triggering the Arab Spring.

Veteran Syrian journalist Husni Mahalli was jailed in December, supposedly for insulting Turkey’s leaders in a series of tweets. But in truth, he is being punished for criticizing the government’s long-running campaign to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even though the policy has been reversed and Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus publicly called it “a mistake.”

Mahalli, 67, has serious health problems, but his appeals to be freed pending trial have fallen on deaf ears.

Pressure on journalists has intensified since the botched coup. Over 100 newspapers and other media outlets have been shuttered, many for alleged links with Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric who is accused of masterminding the coup.

Foreign journalists are also feeling the heat. On Dec. 27, Dion Niessenbaum, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, was carted off by plainclothes police from his Istanbul home and locked up in a cell that had no windows or a toilet for 2½ days. Niessenbaum was denied access to his family, editors or lawyer, and his captors declined to explain why. Erdogan’s office was apparently infuriated by a still image he re-tweeted from a video released by the Islamic State of two captured Turkish soldiers being burned to death. The government declared it fake and has effectively banned all discussion of the video.

Rights groups say Turks who hold dual nationality and work for foreign media outlets are especially vulnerable because their organizations run stories their Turkish colleagues are afraid to touch. Parachutists who wade in with their hobnail boots and dash off critical pieces with little knowledge of the political environment only make things worse. The New York Times recently announced that it was withholding the bylines of its local staff.

The year 2017 could spell even more trouble for journalists as the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushes to boost his already considerable executive powers amid a weakening economy and mounting terror attacks from IS and Kurdish militants alike.

To be sure, his message to journalists to mark this day had an ominous ring to it. “I believe members of our press can make an important contribution to the fight against terrorism, the strengthening of democracy and of our [national] unity during these sensitive times,” he said.

(Source / 10.01.2017)

Three reasons the Islamic State is focused on Turkey

People take pictures of a makeshift memorial set in front of the Reina nightclub, scene of a New Year’s Eve attack, in Istanbul, Jan. 5, 2017

The year 2016 was marked by a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks in Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Islamic State (IS). In 2016, major cities were hit by 20 bomb blasts committed by a variety of culprits, killing a total of 225 people. As the year drew to a close, Turkey overflowed with wishes for less violence, less terror and less oppression.

The new year, however, began with a nightmare — IS launched a savage attack on a posh Istanbul nightclub, claiming 39 lives. The mayhem dashed the hopes for a better year just an hour after Turkey entered 2017, deepening the gloom and raising fresh questions about the country’s future.

The violence rattling the country comes from two sources — the PKK, whose actions have become increasingly linked to the Turkey-Syria context — and IS, whose attacks are also Syria-related.

The IS bloodshed in Turkey began in 2014 with a single attack that claimed three lives. In 2015, four attacks resulted in 144 deaths. In 2016, the number of attacks rose to seven and the death toll to 167, if we also include the latest shooting at Reina nightclub. So, with 11 attacks and 311 victims in two years, IS seems to treat Turkey as one of its exclusive targets. Three main reasons could explain why.

First, the IS attacks in Turkey appear to mirror the group’s battles in Syria. In 2015 — the year IS was defeated in the fierce battle for Kobani, the Kurdish city in northern Syria — it targeted mostly Kurds and Kurdish-related events in Turkey. After July 2015, confrontations between Turkey and the group became more serious, going beyond the pattern of harassment and retaliation. As a result, IS turned to attacking big Turkish cities in 2016, targeting tourist sites, the country’s biggest airport and, most recently, a popular entertainment venue.

This outlook suggests a step-by-step projection of the Syrian war into Turkey and a gradual declaration of war. The indictment over the 2015 bombing of a peace rally in Ankara, which claimed 104 lives, had included evidence of an IS “declaration of war” on Turkey. Similarly, an IS defector told the British daily newspaper The Independent after the massacre at the Reina nightclub that the group “has declared war on Turkey.”

Second, IS undoubtedly sees Turkey as a realm to wage jihad. For IS, Muslims who do not conform to its understanding of Islam are “infidels” and their countries are “taghut,” meaning lands that have rebelled against the teachings of God, an outlook that makes Turkey a target country. The aforementioned indictment refers to communications between the group’s Syria-based Turkey chief and its emir for the southern city of Gaziantep, in which they discuss orders to strike “the PKK, touristic areas or Turkish soldiers — it doesn’t matter” and speak of assurances that “as many [suicide bombers] as requested” would be provided.

Additionally, Turkey — with its 911-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria and 384-kilometer (238-mile) border with Iraq — is a natural realm for expansion and logistical support for IS. A Muslim country at the crossroads of the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East, Turkey’s geographical location and social fabric make it a potential living and thriving space for IS. This was manifested also in the Reina massacre, whose fugitive perpetrator is believed to be from the Uighur community, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group concentrated mainly in China.

Most importantly, however, IS has been able to recruit in remarkable numbers in Turkey. Today, the Salafist group has become a gravity center for Turks inclined to religious fundamentalism, with a network of cells in a number of regions and occasional visibility in public spaces such as mosques and coffee houses.

Findings and concerns on this issue are not something new. In a June 2015 interview, for instance, Serhat Erkmen, a senior researcher at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, issued the following warning, based on field studies: “If we take into account the mujahedeen who went to Syria and Iraq for jihad, the family members who accompanied them and those who gave them logistical and other support, the total number … is close to 10,000. … Families account for about 60% of those who went [to Syria and Iraq].”

Journalist Metehan Demir wrote in a July 2016 article, “According to reports by police and security services, there is a core group of about 60 [IS militants] in Turkey who have been trained professionally abroad and are skilled in brainwashing, organizing cells and planning attacks. They are constantly on the move along a route including Istanbul, Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Hatay, Batman, Adiyaman and Kahramanmaras. In addition to this 60-strong core group, there are 1,800 [militants] who have obtained combat training and served as support elements in Syria. When it comes to those who have made trips to Syria and those who espouse the lifestyle of IS and are ready to march on its path, their numbers in Turkey are said to be in the thousands. Sadly, those figures are not just speculation.”

After the Reina attack, more than 50 IS suspects were detained. According to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, 520 IS members are currently incarcerated in Turkish prisons, among them 246 Turkish nationals.

Obviously, Turkey is faced with a very serious problem. Yet, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its de facto partner, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), have come up with quite a simple approach to the issue. They lump the PKK and IS attacks together with Fethullah Gulen’s July 15 coup attempt, and explain all those events as elements of pressure and even a covert war as part of a foreign plan against Turkey’s unity. Ignoring the various aspects of the problem, the AKP and the MHP see it only as a series of provocations emanating from an external enemy.

The security-focused political climate and measures, the mounting crackdown on the media and freedoms, and the fact that this oppression is increasingly becoming an ordinary thing should all be seen in the same context. Amid the rising nationalist wave, the public may be closing ranks against the spiral of violence while supporting Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria, but the violence and the authoritarian political course are at the same time stoking the sense of insecurity and apprehension.

Turkey’s Syria policies are among the sources of these feelings. It should be noted that on the whole Turkish society is aware that the government’s military operations in Syria, which target IS but are essentially aimed at blocking the advance of Kurdish forces, are bringing the Syrian war to Turkey.

Turkey’s struggle with IS terrorism is a major political test. It is beyond doubt that the government needs a profound review of the situation, from a fresh vantage point and with different measures.

(Source / 09.01.2017)

Istanbul Attacker Identified as ISIS Uzbek Recruit

In this undated photo obtained Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, a man believed to be the ISIS gunman who killed dozens at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Eve films himself as he wanders near Istanbul's Taksim square. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

In this undated photo obtained Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, a man believed to be the ISIS gunman who killed dozens at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve films himself as he wanders near Istanbul’s Taksim square

Ankara- Turkish authorities revealed that the terror attacker responsible for New Year’s horrific shooting at an Istanbul nightclub has been identified. The assailant is responsible for the death of 39 people, who he shot to dead during the early hours of the New Year’s Day.

The man was identified by police on Sunday as a 34-year-old Uzbek who is part of a Central Asian ISIS extremist terror cell, the Hurriyet daily and other Turkish newspapers reported.

The attacker, who remains on the run, has the code name of Ebu Muhammed Horasani. There has been no official confirmation of the reports.

On Thursday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said that the attacker probably belonged to a Turkic ethnic group called the Uyghurs. Initial reports had said the attacker was a Kyrgyz national. Later reports said he was an Uyghur from China.

The people killed by the attack included more than 20 foreigners, and almost 70 were injured. The attacker is said to have opened fire from a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Ultra-hardline terror group ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack.

Turkish authorities have so far made 36 arrests suspected to be involved with the assailant. The gunman is suspected to have known in advance that the guards at the club were not allowed to carry weapons.

The pro-government Yeni Safak daily, citing security sources, recently reported that the attacker was believed to be hiding in a house in Istanbul.

Armed with a long-barreled weapon, the assailant first killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club before entering and shooting at some of the nearly 600 people inside.

Turkey has been hit by numerous acts of terror over the past year. ISIS has claimed most of the assaults.

(Source / 09.01.2017)

Turkey’s Destructive Mistakes in Syria

Turkey’s Destructive Mistakes in Syria

Alwaght– Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian conflict is a product of Ankara’s misconstruing of the war. Clearly, Turkish policymakers had been betting on the Syrian government’s collapse when they made decisions pertaining to their stance on the conflict. But almost five years into the bloody war, it is becoming more and more apparent that Damascus is not going to fall. This has left Turkey to try and sweep up the foreign policy mess it has made.

Showing that there is awareness of Turkey’s blunders, Deputy Prime Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Hurriyet Daily News that he, among others, deems his country’s course of action with regards to Syria as faulted.

“I am one of those who believe our policy on Syria made big mistakes. I have already spoken bluntly about this,” he said.

Observers contend that Turkey’s first mistake was to stand against the Syrian government. Everything that follows is linked to this miscalculation and escalated into an active yet destructive role in the conflict.

Supporting terrorists

Turkey’s insistence on Assad’s departure became the driving force behind Turkish support for terrorist groups. It is well known that Turkey has become a breeding and nurturing ground for terrorists.

In 2011, when the violence first broke out in Syria, Turkey trained defectors of the Syrian army on its territory. That same year, under the supervision of Turkish intelligence, these militants announced the birth of the so-called Free Syrian Army, which was to engage in fighting against Damascus. Furthermore, Syria’s neighbour provided a base for operations for the FSA, in addition to arming them, alongside Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Since the declaration of ISIS’s establishment in June 2014, Turkey has also been seen as a supporter of the group, albeit clandestinely.

A 2014 research paper published by David Philips at the Columbia University, New York, cited multiple evidences that implicated Turkey in ISIS’s activities.

The evidences included the testimony of an ISIS commander who told The Washington Post on August 12: “Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies.”

“According to CHP Vice President Bulent Tezcan, three trucks were stopped in Adana for inspection on January 19, 2014. The trucks were loaded with weapons in Esenboga Airport in Ankara. The drivers drove the trucks to the border, where a MIT agent was supposed to take over and drive the trucks to Syria to deliver materials to ISIS and groups in Syria,” the research added.

Furthermore, in August 2015, Turkish newspaper Bugün reported a transfer of weapon and explosives from Turkey to ISIS through Akcakale border post. A few days later offices of Koza İpek Media Group, the owner of the newspaper, were raided by Turkish police.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin directly accused Erdogan’s government of aiding ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Military Intervention

In 2013, Turkish jets shot down a Syrian helicopter along the border. The Syrian army said the pilot of the Mi-17 had accidently strayed into Turkish airspace while monitoring terrorists who were moving across the border into Syria. When it was shot down, the pilot was on his way back. He was beheaded by militants when he crashed.

The Turks targeted a Syrian MiG-23 in 2014 as the aircraft was flying in Syrian airspace on a mission to attack militant-held areas in the city of Latakia when it was shot down in an act of “blatant aggression.”

These incidents showed that not only was Turkey politically rivaling Damascus but it was also challenging it militarily. This also served to prevent the Syrian army from monitoring its training and aid to extremists as well as hinder its operations along the Turkish-Syrian border.

In February 2015, Turkish tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Syria through Kobani to evacuate the Turkish military garrison guarding the Suleyman Shah tomb and move the remains to a different site. This move amounted to a violation of Syria’s sovereignty as the Turkish military did not ask permission from Syria to carry out the mission.

Turkey has also bombarded Kurds who were fighting against terrorist groups in northern Syria.

On 24 August 2016, a direct military intervention was declared. While Ankara claimed it aimed to target both ISIS and Kurds, it was evident that its involvement would only benefit the extremists.

After calling for a “No-fly zone” in northern Aleppo governorate in a bid to thwart the major advances by the Syrian army and its ally in February, the Turks were frustrated at their failure to garner support. Then, they pressed for ground operations in Syria.

On August 24 2016, Turkish armed forces entered Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a month later that the Turkish military launched its operations in Syria to end the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He was then forced to retract his statement. His ensuing frustration was attributed to the failure of his government’s Syria policies.

Cengiz Candar wrote for al-Monitor: “The fate of Aleppo has the potential to seal the fate of [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s regime in Turkey. Too many of Erdogan’s eggs are placed in the basket of northern Syrian geopolitics, and most of them are likely to crack.”

Now that Aleppo has been liberated, and mistakes are being acknowledged, it seems that Ankara will have to bury its head in the sand to save itself the embarrassment. However, having made so many disparaging errors in their handling of the crisis next door, neither the Syrian people nor their government will forget where Erdogan’s government stood in times of trouble.

(Source / 05.01.2017)

Erdogan Says Nightclub Attack Exploited to Divide Turks as Gunman Identified

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that linking lifestyle differences with the attack at an elite Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Day was a deliberate attempt to divide the nation.

His comment came as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the authorities had identified the gunman behind the mass shooting at the Reina nightclub.

“There is no point trying to blame the Ortakoy attack on differences in lifestyles,” Erdogan said in a speech to local administrators at the presidential palace in Ankara.

“Nobody’s lifestyle is under systematic threat in Turkey. We will never allow this,” he said, in comments broadcast live.

The shooting on Sunday killed 39 people and was claimed by ISIS. Of the 39 dead, 27 were foreigners including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia and Morocco.

Many of those killed were laid to rest in their respective countries by grieving relatives on Tuesday.

Erdogan said that “to say Turkey has surrendered to terrorism is to take sides with the terrorists and terror organizations.”

“Despite the sad start in the early hours of 2017, we strongly maintain our expectations for the new year,” he added.

“The identity of the person responsible for the attack has been established,” Cavusoglu said during an interview with state-run Anadolu news agency, without giving any name.

“Efforts to capture him continue,” he said, adding that the house the suspect lived in “has been searched” and that the attack he mounted had been “professionally” planned.

The attack was claimed by ISIS, with reports suggesting the authorities suspect the gunman may be from either Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.

Turkish media reported the attacker rented a flat in the central city of Konya before moving to Istanbul to carry out the attack.

There were also press reports suggesting he appeared to be well trained in the use of arms and had fought in Syria for ISIS.

Despite no name made public, police released the first clear images of the attacker earlier this week, including one taken by security cameras on the night of the attack.

Anadolu said that police have detained five suspected ISIS militants believed to be linked to the nightclub attack.

The agency said the operation was launched in the Aegean port city of Izmir on Wednesday.

(Source / 04.01.2017)

Turkey demands US support for its operation in Syria

Turkish military vehicles drive in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo province, Syria, Dec. 27, 2016

Despite Turkey’s high-profile collaboration with Russia and Iran aimed at ending the Syrian crisis, Turkey’s position in Syria remains confusing.

Realizing that its fight against the Islamic State (IS) in the group’s stronghold of al-Bab is proving to be more difficult and costly in terms of lives than initially expected, the Turkish military is accusing its Western allies of deserting it and the Turkey-backed Free Syria Army (FSA) as they combat terrorism in Syria.

In a progress report prepared for the press, the Turkish military said it was not getting any help from its allies, which it claimed were merely looking on as Turkish forces engaged in fierce fighting in al-Bab.

The military added that delays in launching the US-led operation to liberate Raqqa had also enabled IS fighters there to move to al-Bab to fight Turkish forces and the FSA.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went further and claimed that the US-led coalition was not only withholding support from Turkey’s campaign in al-Bab, but was also backing IS, as well as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

According to Ankara, the PYD and the YPG are terrorist groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but it has failed to convince Washington.

“It’s very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos,” Erdogan claimed earlier this week with regard to his accusation.

Erdogan also said the US-led coalition was not honoring its promise to help Turkey capture al-Bab. “Whether they do or they don’t, we will continue along this path in a determined way,” he said. “There is no going back.”

Washington denied Erdogan’s claim that it is aiding IS as “ludicrous,” but repeated that it would continue to work with the YPG against IS.

Turkey wants to prevent the Syrian Kurds from gaining an autonomous region along the Turkish border. It has vowed to keep YPG fighters out of al-Bab, and to expel them from the nearby town of Manbij. On Dec. 24, Erdogan reiterated that al-Bab will be taken, and that the Turkish military would then move on to Manbij, and from there to the “IS capital” of Raqqa.

In a further sign that the Turkish operation has run into difficulties, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters, “The international coalition must carry out its duties regarding aerial support to the battle we are fighting in al-Bab.” He added that withholding this support was “unacceptable.”

Turkey has openly said that the aim of its Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria, launched Aug. 24, is to not only target IS but also the YPG. Washington, however, does not consider the YPG to be a terrorist group and has also declared openly that it wants Turkey to concentrate on fighting only IS in Syria.

The United States initially provided air support to Turkish forces and the FSA as they moved against IS in the towns of Jarablus and Dabiq, which were captured with relatively few casualties. The US military announced in November, however, that it was not participating in Turkey’s operation in al-Bab. This announcement came after Turkish forces started bombing YPG positions around al-Bab.

In August, the town of Manbij was captured from IS by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is comprised mainly of YPG fighters. Erdogan’s determination to move on to Manbij appears to be another reason why the United States is reluctant to help Turkey in al-Bab.

According to the perplexing scenario put forward by Erdogan, Turkey’s aim is to capture al-Bab before the YPG, rid Manbij of YPG fighters and work with the US-led coalition to liberate Raqqa from IS, after convincing Washington to dump the YPG. How it plans to achieve all of this on its own is not clear.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a security expert for the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, argues that “clashing agendas” is behind Washington’s reluctance to help Turkey in al-Bab.

“Washington wanted Turkey to move only 20 kilometers [12 miles] deep into Syria and close the access roads in and out of Turkey used by [IS],” Ozcan told Al-Monitor. “When Turkey went beyond this and started attacking the YPG, US plans — especially with regard to capturing Raqqa — were disrupted.”

He added, “It seems as if Washington wants to teach Turkey a lesson now by leaving it on its own in al-Bab.”

Ankara’s dilemma is that Russia is also unlikely to provide military support to Turkey in al-Bab, despite the diplomatic cooperation between the two countries in Syria.

According to Ozcan, Russia’s limited support for Operation Euphrates Shield is also contingent on Turkey’s remaining focused on “killing radical Islamists,” and not going after other groups or posing difficulties for the Syrian regime.

The daily Hurriyet reported this week that Russia was preventing Turkish fighter jets from flying over al-Bab. Citing unnamed sources the paper said, “Russia does not want Turkish jets in the region because it is going to engage in military activities south of al-Bab.”

The Syrian regime is also keen to capture al-Bab before Turkish forces and the FSA. Some analysts have even argued that the regime in Damascus would rather see Kurds in the town than Turkish forces or the FSA.

Ankara’s fixation on the Syrian Kurds, and its inability to address this issue politically, seems to be turning into the boulder on which Turkey’s Syria agenda founders. There is also no guarantee that Moscow will ultimately support Ankara’s line against the Syrian Kurds.

Although Moscow does not support Kurdish autonomy, Russian officials have said that the Kurds must also have a voice in any Syrian settlement.

Sources close to the Turkish government are signaling their hope that the US position will change under the presidency of Donald Trump. Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi, who stands close to Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party, indicates that the government has great expectations of Trump.

“Ankara is preparing for the Trump era. It values Trump’s stated position about not working for regime change in other countries, but concentrating on fighting terrorism,” Selvi wrote in his column.

He was referring to the widespread belief among government circles that the Obama administration was somehow involved in the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey aimed at toppling Erdogan. Ankara is still smarting over Washington’s reluctance to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic cleric accused of masterminding the coup attempt.

Selvi said Ankara wants Trump to see matters from Turkey’s point of view and to “mark a new beginning” in Turkish-US ties. Trump has nevertheless expressed his admiration for Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Given the openly expressed desire by Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to cooperate to end the Syrian crisis, it remains to be seen if Turkish hopes invested in the new US administration will bear fruit or merely compound Turkey’s already difficult situation in Syria.

(Source / 31.12.2016)