US Spy Chief: Fighting ISIS Not Turkish Priority
Published Friday, February 27, 2015
Turkey does not place a high priority on fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadists and as a result foreign fighters are able to travel through the country into Syria, US intelligence chief James Clapper said Thursday.
"Public opinion polls show in Turkey they don't see ISIL as a primary threat,” Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
According to the director of national intelligence, the Turkish government had “other priorities and other interests" and was more concerned with Kurdish opposition and the country's economy.
Clapper, who wasn't optimistic Turkey would take a more active role in the war against ISIS, said that the effect of Turkey's approach was to allow a "permissive" climate for foreign recruits heading to Syria to take arms for the ISIS group.
"And of course, the consequence of that is a permissive environment... because of their laws and the ability of people to travel through Turkey en route to Syria," he said.
"So somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 percent of those foreign fighters find their way to Syria through Turkey."
According to a UN report published in November, Turkey has been singled out as a major transit point for ISIS’ oil deliveries, with trucks often returning to Iraq or Syria with refined products.
The spy chief said some other governments in the Middle East have been loath to to join the US-led coalition against ISIS because of Washington's reluctance to directly confront the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But the "brutal savagery" of the ISIS militants, including the beheadings of hostages and the immolation of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, "have had a galvanizing effect on opinion in the Mideast region," he said.
There was more willingness to cooperate with the United States in the war effort, with some Arab countries now sharing intelligence with Washington, he said.
The spy chief acknowledged that the US faced intelligence "gaps" in Syria, as Washington had no embassy or any major presence on the ground.
Many critics opposed to US-led coalition involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf and Western allies, including Turkey, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.
ISIS spearheaded a militant offensive that began in the northern city of Mosul in June and swept down to overrun much of Iraq’s north and expanded to neighboring Syria.
ISIS facing financial issues, US intelligence chief claims
In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, ISIS was struggling to find the money to pay for electrical power and other services, Clapper claimed.
"They do not have enough financial wherewithal to provide the services, municipal services that are required to run a city of a million people," he said. "We're seeing signs of electricity outages, shortages of food and commodities."
According to Clapper, there were signs that ISIS was resorting to conscription to fill their ranks after having suffered heavy losses on the battlefield, especially in the Syrian border town of Kobane.
He said that “at least” 3,000 ISIS fighters were killed in US-led airstrikes before the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) seized the symbolic town from ISIS on January 26 after four months of fighting.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that US-led airstrikes against ISIS had killed more than 1,600 people in Syria, including 1,465 ISIS members.
US Central Command chief General Lloyd Austin claimed that the airstrikes had killed 8,500 ISIS fighters in both Iraq and Syria, without giving specific details for each country. Death tolls are hard to verify independently in the war-stricken areas under ISIS control, as both ISIS and the coalition against it have a vested interest in emphasizing their respective successes.
Despite claims of successes by the US-led coalition, the air campaign remains the subject of debate, with critics pointing to ISIS advances and battlefield successes despite the raids.