The Guardian reports: As Syria unravelled, Turkey doubled down on its commitment to a range of militant groups, while at the same time appearing to recognise that the jihadis who had passed through their territory were hardly a benign threat. The change in the dialogue with western officials was marked: security officials no longer insisted on the extremists being called “those who abuse religion”. Labelling them “terrorists” in official correspondence was no longer the problem it had been.
Despite that, links to some aspects of Isis continued to develop. Turkish businessmen struck lucrative deals with Isis oil smugglers, adding at least $10m (£6.6m) per week to the terror group’s coffers, and replacing the Syrian regime as its main client. Over the past two years several senior Isis members have told the Guardian that Turkey preferred to stay out of their way and rarely tackled them directly.
Concerns continued to grow in intelligence circles that the links eclipsed the mantra that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and could no longer be explained away as an alliance of convenience. Those fears grew in May this year after a US special forces raid in eastern Syria, which killed the Isis official responsible for the oil trade, Abu Sayyaf.
A trawl through Sayyaf’s compound uncovered hard drives that detailed connections between senior Isis figures and some Turkish officials. Missives were sent to Washington and London warning that the discovery had “urgent policy implications”.
Shortly after that, Turkey opened a new front against the Kurdish separatist group, the PKK, with which it had fought an internecine war for close to 40 years. In doing so, it allowed the US to begin using its Incirlik air base for operations against Isis, pledging that it too would join the fray. Ever since, Turkey’s jets have aimed their missiles almost exclusively at PKK targets inside its borders and in Syria, where the YPG, a military ally of the PKK, has been the only effective fighting force against Isis – while acting under the cover of US fighter jets.
Senior Turkish officials have openly stated that the Kurds – the main US ally in Syria – pose more of a threat than Isis to Turkey’s national interests. Yet, through it all, Turkey, a Nato member, continues to be regarded as an ally by Europe. The US and Britain have become far less enamoured, but are unwilling to do much about it. [Continue reading…]