Turkey Stands With al-Qaeda Against the Kurds

Tear gas smoke rises during clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish protestors in Yuksekova in the province of Hakkari on 30 August 2013. (Photo: AFP - STR)

By: Youssef Sheikho

Published Monday, September 23, 2013

Turkey continues to support armed Islamist groups in their campaign against Kurdish militias along Syria’s northern front. Yet the growing body count of al-Qaeda fighters in the north suggests that Turkish efforts are not entirely successful.

Qamishli – The Turkish government is arguably the strongest backer of the armed Syrian opposition, especially the factions led by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Turkey is also believed to be the main base for opposition fighters and their logistical and military supply lines. But while Turkish officials have no qualms about publicly acknowledging this direct support, Ankara denies it has any ties to al-Qaeda’s affiliates active in Syria.

Turkey is also wary of seeing militants seize control of towns along the border with Turkey, such as Tall al-Abiad, Jarablos, and recently, Azaz, which is now settled by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) following a ceasefire with the FSA’s Northern Storm Brigade. Nevertheless, it seems that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has found it necessary to provide military and logistical support to al-Qaeda’s affiliates to fight the Kurds.

According to Kurdish sources in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, it has become commonplace for the residents of border villages and cities to see Turkish ambulances near the areas where clashes take place between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and radical Islamic brigades, to evacuate the latter’s casualties and wounded to Turkish hospitals.

A video posted recently purports to show a Kurdish citizen in Turkey attacking wounded members of al-Nusra Front upon their arrival to a hospital in Ceylanpinar. Kurds in Turkey have also been staging protests against their government’s support for radical groups.

It is also not odd to see the Turkish army supervising the transfer of al-Qaeda fighters across the border region in Turkey into the Kurdish areas on the Syrian side. A few days ago, the Turkish army allowed 150 fighters from ISIS and other Islamic brigades to cross to the village of Alouk, east of Ras al-Ayn (Serekani), along with six tanks and pick-up trucks equipped with machine guns. It appears that the goal of the move was to try to block the road between the cities of Derbassiyeh and Ras al-Ayn and cut off supplies to YPG fighters.

After four days of intense fighting, the Kurdish forces were able to take control of the village. Kurdish military sources told Al-Akhbar that more than 60 Islamic fighters had been killed in the fighting, including two commanders and 13 Kurdish fighters.

The opposition-aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, quoting activists in the area, said that more than 39 bodies belonging to al-Qaeda fighters were spotted in the village. According to the Kurdish source, hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters flocked to the Hasakah governorate in early September to support the radical militants after they received heavy blows in Hasakah’s southern countryside.

Turkish support for radical brigades was not limited to Hasakah, but also played out equally in villages and towns close to Tall al-Abiad in the Raqqa governorate. In truth, the YPG have now accused the Turkish army of killing two of its fighters using snipers near an area where clashes were taking place between the Kurdish units and radical brigades in the Syrian border village of Sawsak, which was recently seized by Kurdish fighters after fierce clashes with jihadi groups.

For the first time since the start of the crisis in Syria, the YPG, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), issued a statement warning the Turkish government against continuing to provide support for the radical groups, or otherwise “face dire consequences.” The statement called on Ankara “not to resort to dirty tactics that destabilize the region.”

Six Suicide Attacks

It is worth mentioning that over the past two months, al-Qaeda affiliates in Hasakah carried out six suicide attacks against Kurdish checkpoints near city entrances, killing 15 Kurdish fighters and two civilians. The YPG units have also captured Arab and foreign fighters, mostly from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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