Recently, U.S. special forces dramatically eliminated the leader of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
(November 11, 2019 / Newsmax)
Baghdadi was discovered in Syria’s Idlib province in a safe house in the town of Barisha where he had been staying for as many as seven months. The safe house was owned by a commander in the al-Qaeda linked jihadist group, Hurras al-Din, to whom Baghdadi had been paying protection money. The U.S. was tipped off that Baghdadi was there by the Syrian Defense Forces, our Kurdish-led ally in Syria, which had a spy in Baghdadi’s circle.
Despite the fact that Turkey, our NATO ally, is just three miles away from Barisha and has troops all over the Idlib province, that nation had little to no involvement in the mission against Baghdadi.
Turkey may have provided some useful intelligence to the U.S., although it doesn’t seem to be specifically about Baghdadi, and it also doesn’t appear to be a large amount. Certainly it was much less than the “vital intelligence” provided by the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. And obviously, the Turkish military was not involved in the actual attack. The U.S. did not even inform the Turkish government that we were specifically targeting Baghdadi, as there were “concerns the information would be compromised.” Instead, Turkey was only notified that a raid was coming when U.S. forces came close to its borders. This is the same notification the U.S. provided to adversaries such as Russia and Syria. And the operation was launched not from the main U.S. regional U.S. airbase, in İncirlik Turkey, but from much further away in northern Iraq.
This tells us quite a bit about Turkey. And nothing good.
It also inevitably leads to the next question: did Turkey know that Baghdadi was in Barisha, Idlib?
It is a fact that Turkey has long had a “major say” in the Idlib province. The Turkish military has outposts all over Idlib, as a result of their negotiations with Putin to prevent the Idlib rebel groups from being destroyed by Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. Further, Turkey has connections with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is the predominant jihadist rebel group in Idlib. It has even been reported that HTS conducted its own search for Baghdadi, after receiving information that he was in the area, which it shared with some intelligence agencies, possibly including Turkey. If so, it doesn’t appear that Turkey notified the U.S. of that fact. The remainder of Idlib is controlled by the National Liberation Front, a group that Turkey helped form, which has jihadist components, including some whom were once in the IS.
So, it is hard to believe that Turkey was unaware of Baghdadi’s months long exile in Idlib.
Especially since just hours after Baghdadi was killed, U.S. forces also dispatched number two IS leader Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, who — surprise, surprise — was near Jarabulus, in a Syria town directly controlled by Turkish forces for the past three years.
Finding not one, but two, top IS leaders in Turkish areas of influence in Syria is quite a coincidence.
Additionally, it is not like Turkey has never before been helpful to the IS.
Since 2012, Turkey’s porous borders have long allowed the IS to reinforce its supplies and manpower. Scores of IS fighters captured by the SDF in northern Syria had Turkish exit stamps on their passports, and boasted of the direct assistance they had received from Turkish authorities. Some IS fighters have been treated from their wounds in Turkish hospitals. At least one IS official, the finance minister, has voluntarily fled from Iraq into Turkey, in 2017. Perhaps most significantly, “Turkey has also played a key role in facilitating the life-blood of ISIS’ expansion: black market oil sales… Turkey has facilitated over $1 billion worth.” In fact, it is likely that Baghdadi set up shop in Idlib because he was “trying to connect with and reassemble the ISIS external attack network that needs to move through Turkey to get to Europe.”
And Turkey’s military actions in Syria have never focused on battling the IS, but instead on fighting Kurdish forces, whom it has vocally labeled terrorists.
Soon after the U.S. raids, Turkey announced that they had seized Baghdadi’s wife, sister, brother-in-law, and a number of other IS suspects. Once again, these IS members were taken from areas very close to the Turkish border. Once again, quite a coincidence.
But I don’t think so.