Turkey: A state sponsor of terrorism?

Turkey capabilities like a state-sponsor of terrorism (SST), fueling Islamist extremism domestically and deploying jihadist mercenaries to Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. Listing Turkey as an SST shouldn’t be taken calmly. The SST designation requires obligatory sanctions by the US, which might trigger deep injury to US-Turkey relations. Short of an SST itemizing, Western international locations can sanction Turkey and Turkish safety officers for supporting terrorism whereas offering benchmarks of excellent conduct so Turkey can redeem itself and restore good relations with the West. 


Turkey’s collusion with terrorist organizations could be traced again to the institution of Turkish Hezbollah within the 1990s, which assassinated Kurdish politicians deemed sympathetic to the PKK. 

Support for jihadis was institutionalized in August 2013 when Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to strike the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Artillery tipped with sarin and mustard fuel killed an estimated 1729 individuals, together with 400 kids. 

Erdogan was outraged by the killing of Sunni civilians and took it on himself to reply. Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) established the so-called jihadi freeway that enabled 40,000 overseas fighters from eighty international locations to transit via Turkey on their approach to Raqqa in Syria. MIT offered weapons, cash, and logistical help. Foreign fighters wounded on Syria’s battlefield appeared in Turkish hospitals the place they obtained emergency care – no value and no questions requested. 

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) adopted an Islamist ideology. In July 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc gave a speech about ethical corruption. “The woman…will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness.”

Displaced Kurdish kids who fled their hometown of Ras al-Ain play after Turkey launched an offensive focusing on Kurdish forces in north-eastern Syria days after the US withdrew troops from the world in October 2019. EPA-EFE//STR

Turkey’s collusion with Islamists was well-known to intelligence companies world wide. Vice President Joe Biden confirmed it throughout a speech at Harvard University on October 2, 2014: “President Erdoğan told me, he is an old friend, you were right, we let too many people through…”  

Idlib in Syria’s northwest grew to become floor zero for Turkish involvement with al-Qaeda affiliated militias. Erdogan helps Idlib’s Sunni fighters — Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Al Nusra Front, Ansar al-Din, and Jaysh al-Sunna – who aspire to establishing an Islamic emirate in Syria underneath al-Qaeda’s management. 

When Turkey invaded Afrin in January 2018, a majority Kurdish city west of the Euphrates River, 6,000 Turkish troops and 10,000 jihadists have been supported by armour and airstrikes as Erdogan escalated battle with Kurds in Syria. He justified the assault, sustaining that Syrian Kurdish fighters have been a department of the PKK. Turkish-backed jihadis beheaded civilians and mutilated the our bodies of Kurdish girls. For Erdogan, counter-terrorism means killing Kurds.

Turkey developed a army formulation in Syria. Turkish air energy and artillery attacked civilians earlier than jihadi mercenaries, backed by Turkish armor and artillery, would advance to grab territory and conduct ethnic cleaning. 


Having proved their mettle in Syria, mercenaries have been exported to different battle zones the place their battlefield prowess may advance Turkey’s strategic and ideological targets. Turkish land, air and sea forces coordinated with the Syrian National Army (SNA) in Libya. Turkey despatched 300 mercenaries from the SNA to defend the Government of National Accord (GNA) in December 2019. In lower than a yr, 18,000 Syrian fighters had been despatched to Libya. The drive contains 350 youngster troopers. 

Turkey’s assist for the GNA concerned each coaching and operational assist. Turkey used Bajraktar unmanned aerial autos (UAVs), in addition to intelligence property alongside the SNA, which helped form the battlefield in its favor.

Turkey’s deployment in Libya came about inside the framework of 2019 Security and Military Cooperation Agreement between Tripoli and Ankara. Turkish troops fortified the Watiyya Air Base on the Tunisian border, in addition to amenities in Misrata and a navy base in Khoms. Turkish troops stayed of their bunkers, whereas SNA mercenaries did the soiled work.

In May 2021, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the presence of 6,630 Syrian mercenaries in Libya. These fighters have been unwilling to return home. They demand repatriation to locations in Europe the place they characterize a fifth column.    

Nagorno Karabakh

Turkey handled its assist for jihadis as a franchise, exporting fighters from one fight zone to the opposite. Battle-hardened mercenaries have been despatched from Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh (“Artsakh” in Armenian). Some well-known mercenaries joined the Artsakh operation, launched on September 27, 2020. 

Sayf Balud, also called Sayf Abu Bakr, led SNA’s Hamza Division, which fought in Afrin as a part of Operation Olive Branch (Afrin) in addition to the Libyan Civil War. Balud and approximately 500 of his males have been flown to Azerbaijan to hitch preventing in Artsakh. Balud is a Syrian Turkman who first appeared in a 2013 ISIS propaganda video. He was answerable for a number of struggle crimes, together with kidnapping Kurdish girls and brutal repression in Afrin. 

epa08875584 Azeri President Ilham Aliyev (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) attend a army parade in Baku, Azerbaijan devoted to the shut allies’ victory in the newest Karabakh War. EPA-EFE//ROMAN ISMAYILOV

Beginning in 2015, Fehim Isa led the SNA’s Sultan Murad Division. He was concerned in Operation Euphrates ShieldOperation Olive Branch, and the Libyan Civil War. Balud, additionally an ethnic Turkman, is accused of a number of struggle crimes, such because the torturing of Kurdish troopers in Syria and indiscriminate shelling of civilians.

Abu Amsha leads the Suleyman Shah Brigade, in any other case referred to as the al-Amshat militia. It gained prominence as one of many most brutal factions occupying Afrin. It confiscated propertykidnapped people for ransom, which generated $12 million/yr. Amsha has been accused of rape and homicide

Other Turkish-backed mercenary leaders embrace  Ahmed Osman, one other army chief of the Sultan Murad Division; Abu Jalal, is a frontrunner of the Hamza Division and Mohammad al-Abdullah was “head of Hamza’s Political Bureau; Fadlallah al-Haji heads Faylaq al-Sham, an necessary Turkish proxy who fought in Syria, Libya, and Artsakh. Al-Haji and his males have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Idlib. 

In addition to gross human rights abuses in opposition to civilians, Turkish-backed mercenaries destroyed church buildings and Armenian cultural monuments, which can be a violation of worldwide humanitarian regulation. 

SST Listing

Does Turkey’s help to jihadi mercenaries make it a state sponsor for terrorism (SST)? 

The time period SST is utilized by the US Department of State to international locations which have “repeatedly offered assist for acts of worldwide terrorism“, pursuant to part 1754(c) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, part 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and part 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. Currently, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria are designated SSTs. Designation requires unilateral sanctions. 

Being listed just isn’t merely a technical matter. The choice is closely politicized with itemizing reserved for America’s most intractable opponents. Today, there’s rising debate about Turkey’s suitability as a NATO member. Regardless, the NATO Charter makes no provision for evicting members which have gone rogue. If Turkey utilized immediately, it might not even be thought-about for NATO membership as a result of it’s Islamist, anti-American and a serial abuser of human rights. NATO is greater than a safety alliance. It is a coalition of nations with shared values.

Whether it deserves to be in NATO is debatable. Turkey is a crucial intelligence supply and early warning put up for missile launches and different nefarious actions by Iran and Russia. If another non-NATO nation behaved like Turkey, it might warrant designation as an SST. Given Turkey’s strategic significance, it’s unlikely Washington will go this route. 

Short of the SST designation, the US can sign concern by decreasing its reliance on Turkey as a safety accomplice. It may relocate property from Incirlik Air Force Base in southeast Turkey to amenities in Cyprus, Romania or to an plane provider within the japanese Mediterranean. The US may additionally take into account shifting 50 tactical nuclear weapons from Incirlik.

Additionally, the US may droop weapons gross sales to the Turkish Armed Forces. It may additionally limit travel to the US by Turkish officers, such a MIT Director Hakan Fidan, in addition to their relations. The overseas financial institution accounts of Turkish officers concerned in assist for violent extremism is also frozen.

The menace of SST designation might show simpler than precise itemizing. The US and European allies ought to pursue quiet, constant diplomacy. It ought to present benchmarks, giving Turkey a manner out of the penalty field. Annually, the President ought to certify that Turkish officers will not be supporting terror teams. 

Western international locations need good relations with Turkey, however relations have to be primarily based on respect for the worldwide order. Without publicly embarrassing Turks, US officers could make clear that Turkey crossed the road and can pay a value.


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