Reuters reports: The rise of al Qaeda in parts of Syria’s north has left Turkey facing a new security threat on its already vulnerable border and raised questions about its wholesale support for rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey has long championed more robust backing for Syria’s fractious armed opposition, arguing it would bring a quicker end to Assad’s rule and give moderate forces the authority they needed to keep more radical Islamist elements in check.
But with Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) taking territory in parts of the north near the border in recent weeks, it is a strategy that increasingly looks to have been a miscalculation.
Ankara has found itself facing accusations that indiscriminate support for the rebels has allowed weapons and foreign fighters to cross into northern Syria and facilitated the rise of radical groups.
“We are being accused of supporting al Qaeda,” a source close to the Turkish government said, adding that U.S. officials had raised concerns on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York last month.
“They were politely but aggressively critical. The attention has focused away from Assad to al Qaeda,” the source said, echoing frustration voiced by other officials in Ankara that this was playing into Assad’s hands.
As if on cue, the Turkish army said on Wednesday it had fired on ISIL fighters over the border after a stray mortar shell hit Turkish soil. It has retaliated in the past in such cases but this appeared to be the first time its response had targeted al Qaeda-linked fighters. [Continue reading…]