Recent reports claim that Turkey helped Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate kidnap members of the rebel unit which the U.S. trained to fight in that country.
According to McClatchy News, Turkish intelligence officials provided the intelligence to Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate. The U.S.-trained rebel platoon cost $500 million dollars and ultimately included fewer than 60 members.
Turkey has emerged as a potential ally in the U.S. tricky two-front war against the government of President Bashar Assad as well as the Islamic State and other terrorists. But Turkey’s opposition to Assad and its suspicion of the Kurds fighting against Islamic State have often led it to tacitly back other Islamists in Syria’s civil war. (RELATED: US Ally Has ‘Undeniable’ Links To ISIS, Which It’s Now Bombing)
For critics, the rebel training program has become a testament to the difficulty of matching American goals in Syria to strategic reality, as well as a symbol of the White House’s hesitation to become further entrenched in the region. And according to McClatchy’s sources, the al-Qaida affiliate has kept from killing the rebels — whose unit is known as Division 30 — only because “Turkey does not want them executed.”
The revelation of Turkey’s betrayal comes as the U.S. and Turkey continue to make contradictory statements about their joint effort to oust Islamic State fighters from a strip of land in northern Syria. According to Turkey’s foreign ministry, the two countries are about to launch “comprehensive” airstrikes on the terrorist group — a claim that the White House immediately denied. (RELATED: Turkey’s ISIS War Is About Much More Than ISIS)
Turkey’s goals in Syria are distinctly different from those of the United States. With the two countries collaborating on a plan to fight Islamists in Syria, disagreements may have seemed inevitable. The question is whether Turkey will ultimately prove an honest partner, or instead force the U.S. to do all the anti-Islamic State heavy lifting on its own while continue to trying to subvert efforts against the group on other fronts.
The plan for airstrikes was originally intended to provide cover for so-called “moderate” rebels to move into northern Syria and recover territory from Islamic State. But if Turkey is tacitly giving orders to the U.S.-trained rebels’ captors, the working relationship may prove to be more difficult than anyone suspected.
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