Over the past five weeks, Turkey’s role in facilitating the trafficking of illicit Islamic State crude has been exposed for the world to see. Ankara’s move to shoot down a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian border prompted a media blitz from Moscow, which has variously accused the Erdogan government of being complicit in a business that nets Bakr al-Baghdadi between $500 million and $1 billion per year in revenue.
To be sure, those who have followed Islamic State’s meteoric rise are well aware of the fact that Turkey has played a rather decisive role in the group’s recruiting efforts by looking the other way as a steady stream of foreign fighters - emboldened by the ISIS propaganda machine - have streamed into Syria.
Ankara, like Riyadh and Doha, is keen on seeing the Assad government fall and has been instrumental in the effort (supported by the West) to funnel money and weapons to the various Sunni extremist groups fighting for control of the country. As Nafeez Ahmed put it in a recent piece posted first on Medium, “NATO is harbouring the Islamic State and France’s brave new war on ISIS is a sick joke, and an insult to the victims of the Paris attacks.” Here are some key excerpts from the article:
A senior Western official familiar with a large cache of intelligence obtained this summer from a major raid on an ISIS safehouse told the Guardian that “direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking ISIS members was now ‘undeniable.’”
The same official confirmed that Turkey, a longstanding member of NATO, is not just supporting ISIS, but also other jihadist groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. “The distinctions they draw [with other opposition groups] are thin indeed,” said the official. “There is no doubt at all that they militarily cooperate with both.”
In a rare insight into this brazen state-sponsorship of ISIS, a year ago Newsweek reported the testimony of a former ISIS communications technician, who had travelled to Syria to fight the regime of Bashir al-Assad.
The former ISIS fighter told Newsweek that Turkey was allowing ISIS trucks from Raqqa to cross the “border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.” ISIS militants would freely travel “through Turkey in a convoy of trucks,” and stop “at safehouses along the way.”
The former ISIS communication technician also admitted that he would routinely “connect ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” adding that “the people they talked to were Turkish officials… ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks.”
As if all of that wasn’t enough, German media now contend that ISIS has an office in Turkey through which it sells slaves obtained fron conquered territory.
Given all of the above, it comes as no surprise that according to an Islamic State soldier captured by the YPG (which Ankara regards with quite a bit of suspicion for the group's ties with the PKK), Turkey serves as the training ground for new ISIS recruits. The following excerpts are from Sputnik Turkey, who spoke to the fighter:
"There were 60 of us, and we trained in a village not far from the airport. We got up in the morning and played sport. Once a week we had target practice, they taught us how to use Kalashnikovs, machine guns and other kinds of weaponry."
"The training took place in Turkey because the Daesh command thought that it was safer there than in Syria. It wasn't possible to carry out training in Syria because of airstrikes."
"In the media they wrote that we were training in an FSA military camp, but in fact, all 60 of us were members of Daesh. We were Syrian nationals, many of whom in the beginning moved to Turkey to earn some money, and then joined Daesh."
"I made contacts with Syrians on the internet, helped them to get to Turkey and begin training. After I undertook the training, for five months I lived together with a relative who was a Daesh commander in Adana. My task was to meet the new recruits arriving from Syria. After training we sent them to Urfa, and from there – to Raqqa. From Raqqa they distributed themselves across different regions of Syria."
"Heavy weapons were delivered from Ash-Shaddadi (a town in southern Al-Hasakah Governorate).”
"I spent one night there, and the next night December 11 2015 YPG forces attacked our positions, and took both of us captive. In al-Hol the commander was a Frenchman called Abu Yahya."
"What I read about Daesh, and what I was faced with in reality were absolutely different things.”
Note that this isn't the first time we've heard Adana mentioned in the same breath as ISIS. As University of Greenwich's George Kiourktsoglou and Dr Alec D Coutroubis wrote in "ISIS Gateway To Global Crude Oil Markets," the militants' supply chain comprises the following localities: Sanliura, Urfa, Hakkari, Siirt, Batman, Osmaniya, Gaziantep, Sirnak, Adana, Kahramarmaras, Adiyaman and Mardin. The string of trading hubs ends up in Adana, home to the major tanker shipping port of Ceyhan."
Apparently then, ISIS commanders are living in and recruiting from the very same place where Islamic State oil is shipped to global markets. So we now have still more evidence of Erdogan's role in harboring "the terrorists" (as the Russian MoD calls them) but once again we seriously doubt anyone in NATO cares. After all, it's not like this is a secret and we're quite sure Washington is well aware of what the West's favorite autocrat is up to in Ankara. The question, of course, is why no one seems interested in putting a stop to it.