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Who Now Leads The War On Syria – The CIA Or Turkey?


Some reports about the recent al-Qaeda attack on Aleppo suggest a leading role Turkey is playing in this operation. This contradicts my analysis of a Turkish foreign policy change moving from a solely western orientation towards a more eastern one. Such a change implies a less intense Turkish engagement in Syria.

Earlier reports by the Economist and the Financial Times pointed to less active role of Turkey in Syria. But a new Financial Times piece (Textcopy) emphasizes the role of Turkey in supplying and training various oppositions groups, especially al-Qaeda, while minimizing U.S. involvement:

[T]he offensive against President Bashar al-Assad’s troops may have had more foreign help than it appears: activists and rebels say opposition forces were replenished with new weapons, cash and other supplies before and during the fighting.“At the border yesterday we counted tens of trucks bringing in weapons,” said one Syrian activist, who crosses between Syria and neighbouring Turkey. “It’s been happening daily, for weeks … weapons, artillery — we’re not just talking about some bullets or guns.”

Two other rebels, who, like all those interviewed, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, described cash and supplies being ferried in for weeks.

Just ten days ago the FT cited Syrian rebels as saying “Turkey was [now] inactive as rebels struggled.” The Economist said Turkey was now “periodically closing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing”. In the new piece claims that Turkey is the operational, logistical master behind the Aleppo attack; that the attack was planned in Ankara and al-Qaeda/Nusra troops were possibly trained by the Turkish military. Moreover it claims that mass supplies over the border have intensified in recent days instead of coming in dropwise throughout the months before.

Ahrar al Sham, the Taliban like, U.S. supported terrorist group in Syria, is also suddenly empathizing extensive Turkish help.

These reports do not fit each other. According to these reports Turkey is either pulling back from the war on Syria or is intensifying it. What is it?

Yesterday the Russian President Putin met the Iranian President Rouhani in Azerbaijan. Today the Turkish President Erdogan meets Putin in St. Petersburg. In a TASS interview accompanying today’s meeting Erdogan talks of new relations with Russia but still insist that “Assad must go” at about any price. He also says that al-Qaeda aka Jabhat al Nusra is, in his view, not a terrorist organization because it sometimes fights the Islamic State. That is consistent with U.S. and Israeli support for al-Qaeda in Syria.

In a counter to Turkish bluster Putin sent an agreement for a permanent Russian airbase in Syria for ratification to the Russian parliament. The message to Turkey is that Russia will not leave the scene and must be accommodated.

The meeting will, one way or another, set new political directions for the war on Syria. Turkish-Russian cooperation may intensify and the war peter out, or the conflict will further intensify with a renewed Russian engagement.

The FT piece emphasizing very recent mass logistics through Turkey (which may or many not have happened) was probably placed to depict Turkey in a more “western” role than it currently has. That would limit Erdogan’s room to maneuver in St. Petersburg. But is it really plausible that Turkey, after a recent bloody U.S. coup attempt, intensified its back-work for the CIA,  even when it knows that this will hurt urgently needed new relations with Russia and Iran?

While the recent FT article is emphasizing Turkey’s role, it is playing down U.S. engagement:

“The Americans, of course, knew what was going on. They ignored it to put some pressure back on Russia and Iran,” said a western diplomat in contact with the opposition.

We can be sure that the CIA is doing much more than just ignoring weapon supplies or looking on. The thousands of tons of weapons reaching al-Qaeda and other insurgents were brought in from Bulgaria on U.S. chartered ships. The MANPADs recently delivered to the Taliban equivalent in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham, certainly passed through U.S. hands. The FT also mentions Kerry’s August 1 deadline which we believe marked a U.S. set date for the long planned Aleppo attack,  and for the new siege on the 1.2-1.5 million civilians on the government side of the city.

A recent New York Times piece (in which the paper for the first time admits intensive, longtime CIA involvement in Syria) emphasizes the central operational role of U.S. activities in the war on Syria:

For several years, the C.I.A. has joined with the spy services of several Arab nations to arm and train the rebels at bases in Jordan and Qatar, with the Saudis bankrolling much of the operation.

It is either Turkey (says the FT) or the CIA (says the NYT) which is in the lead. This contradiction adds to other finger pointing about who is the master conductor of, and culpable for the anti-Syrian operations.

One example: The Turkish military recently “rescued” a CIA spy who was wounded in the north Latakia region of Syria. The U.S. send helicopters to help its asset. The spy turned out to be journalist Lindsey Snell working on a report with Nusra for the intelligence outfit Vocativ. She was put into Turkish jail for illegally crossing the border. Was this another game or some real disagreement?

It could be that Turkish-U.S. cooperation on Syria, despite the coup-attempt in Turkey, is still excellent. That would imply that major conflicts playing out in the spy world and in the media are orchestrated fakes to confuse Syria and its allies.

But these conflicts may also point to real fighting behind the scenes. Fighting about who will be stuck with the tar-babies al-Qaeda in Syria and other “rebels” are likely to become.