The downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish military on Tuesday has again put the spotlight on Ankara’s role in the Syrian civil war, most notably their supposed support for the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The Turks say two of their F-16s shot down the Russian Su-24 after it crossed into their airspace, a charge that Russian President Vladimir Putin denies.
The incident threatens to escalate the conflict, putting the Western NATO alliance — which Turkey is a part of — in a precarious position. The downing of the Su-24 has also fractured any post-Paris attack hopes for better coordination between Russia and NATO to destroy ISIS.
While the Russians have been previously accused of violating Turkish airspace on multiple occasions, Putin said that the downing of their jet was a stab in the back.
See Putin’s response to the downing of the Russian jet:
Russia has also accused Turkey of buying oil and gas from ISIS in Syria, a charge backed up by a former NATO commander, retired General Wesley Clark.
“All along there’s always been the idea that Turkey was supporting ISIS in some way,” Clark said, before adding that Ankara is also channeling ISIS jihadis through Turkey.
“Someone’s buying that oil that ISIS is selling; it’s going through somewhere. It looks to me like it’s probably going through Turkey,” said Clark on CNN.
Recently, Russian aircraft bombed an ISIS oil refinery and tanker trucks somewhere near the Turkish border.
Clark described ISIS as a Sunni Muslim terror organization that targets Shia Muslims.
“That means [ISIS is] serving the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, even as it poses a threat to them because neither Turkey or Saudi Arabia want an Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon bridge that isolates Turkey, and cuts Saudi Arabia off,” Clark said.
But Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan described Russia’s claim that his country is buying oil from ISIS as “slander”.
“You must know that we are not as dishonorable as to buy oil from a terrorist organization,” he said reported AFP. “Turkey is buying oil from Russia.”
Erdogan labelled attempts to connect Turkey with ISIS as “disrespectful” to his country.
See Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defend the downing of the Russian warplane in this BBC video:
Turkey, the Gulf States, and most of the West want the Syrain regime of President Basher al-Assad out of power. But al-Assad has the support of the Russians, Shia Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Putin has been in the past accused of focusing on destroying other rebel groups – including those backed by Turkey – who are fighting al-Assad’s forces, while ignoring ISIS.
Similar accusations of avoiding fighting ISIS have been leveled at Turkey, who some say have been bombing Kurdish forces, and leaving ISIS jihadists relevantly unharmed.
“Turkey has made only a token handful of strikes against ISIS,” stated Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Almost all Erdogan’s bombs have actually fallen on the Turkish Kurds of the PKK (who had been observing a ceasefire with the Turkish government for the past four years), and above all on the Syrian Kurds,” stated Dyer.
Turkey denies the claims that it supports ISIS, and say they instead back moderate rebels in Syria, and Turkmen fighters battling al-Assad’s regime.
According to a report in Newsweek, a former ISIS member said that the Turkish military allows the jihadist group to travel freely through Turkish territory so they can reinforce the jihadists fighting Kurdish forces.
“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” the former ISIS member said, in reference to border crossings into Turkey, “and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it was impossible to travel through Syria, as YPG [National Army of Syrian Kurdistan] controlled most parts of the Kurdish region.”
Dyer wrote that Ankara is determined to see its interests in Syria fulfilled, that being there is no establishment of an independent Kurdish state, and that the regime of al-Assad is vanquished.
“Erdogan is utterly determined that Assad must go, and he doesn’t really care if Assad’s successors are Islamist extremists,” wrote Dyer.
See this video report by The Young Turks about other claims, recently made, that Turkey helps ISIS: