ANKARA/BERLIN (Own report) – Berlin has reacted to Turkish air strikes on the “Islamic State” (IS) and the PKK, with both praise and sharp criticism. After several IS attacks on Turkish territory, Ankara halted its support for the IS last week and launched air strikes on the organization in northern Syria. For years, the West, including Berlin, had been benevolently observing how Ankara had been granting assistance to the IS – as an aspect of the war against the Bashar al Assad government in Syria. Ankara is now following the change of course, initiated last year by the West, when it declared war on IS. Berlin’s sharp criticism of Turkish air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq must be seen in the context of Turkish plans to invade northern Syria, which would lead to a confrontation with Kurdish forces affiliated to the PKK. Germany clearly rejects such an invasion because either it would strengthen Ankara, which recently has been regularly opposing Berlin, or it would turn another EU-bordering country into a theater of armed conflict – between the Turkish armed forces and Kurdish units.
Support for Jihadists
For years, the Turkish government had been supporting the “Islamic State” (IS) – particularly by permitting the IS to use areas on the Turkish side of the border with Syria as bases of operations and by providing medical treatment to injured IS combatants in Turkish hospitals. Arms deliveries have also been repeatedly reported. According to reports, the IS helped finance itself by selling Syrian oil from territories under its occupation to Turkey via intermediaries. In its efforts to overthrow Bashar al Assad, Ankara also has been supporting other jihadist organizations, “such as the Al-Nusra Front, which it helped train and arm in cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” according to Günter Seufert, an expert on Turkey at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The Al-Nusra Front is Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch. Following the IS terror attack in Suruç on July 20, resulting in 32 dead and over 100 injured, and referring to the Turkish support for IS, German media wrote, “the spirits Erdoğan had evoked” have struck and turned against their former sponsor. This is not false, however, it does not go deep enough.
With Western Approval
Ankara had, in fact, been sponsoring jihadists in Syria up until 2014, however, not single-handedly. It was done with western – including German – knowledge and approval. Recently, it has been pointed out repeatedly that “the locations in Turkey, where IS was recruiting were known to the local population.” The human rights activist Osman Süzen, for example, posed the question, “if the people know how these organizations work, where they meet and how they recruit, does the state not know it as well?” The same rhetorical question could be raised to the German government, not only because, as revealed last year, Turkey is officially a “reconnaissance objective” of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND). One can assume that, since Bundeswehr units are stationed in south eastern Turkey, in Kahramanmaraş, they would also be involved in the common practice of reconnaissance of their area of operations. For years, German police and intelligence services have had under surveillance German jihadists leaving for Syria, usually with the aid of networks in Turkey. Despite its detailed knowledge of the jihadists’ activities in Turkey, Berlin has never interfered in Ankara’s support for IS until it joined the war against IS. In August 2012, the US DIA military intelligence agency bluntly explained, why various western governments have generously approved the Turkish-Saudi aid to IS. A “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria could help isolate the government in Damascus.