By Mike Whitney
It’s clear that Russia’s bombardment of jihadi groups operating near the Turkish-Syrian border has Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan worried. Erdogan has long hoped that the area would be turned into a Safe Zone where Sunni militants– committed to removing Assad from power– could receive weapons and other support from their sponsors while coming and going as they pleased. The Russian-led coalition’s attempt to retake the area and seal the border to stop the flow of terrorists from Turkey, is probably what precipitated the attack on the Russian warplane. It was a desperate attempt to wave-off the Russian offensive and reverse the course of the war which has turned decisively in Assad’s favor. As for the militant groups that are operating in this area, analyst Pepe Escobar sums it up like this in a recent post at Sputnik News:
“The Su-24s were actually after Chechens and Uzbeks — plus a few Uyghurs — smuggled in with fake Turkish passports (Chinese intel is also on it), all of these operating in tandem with a nasty bunch of Turkish Islamo-fascists. Most of these goons transit back and forth between the CIA-weaponized Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat al-Nusra. These were the goons who machine-gunned the Russian pilots as they parachuted down after the hit on the Su-24….
Turkey, for all practical purposes, has been a handy, sprawling Salafi-jihadi Infrastructure and Logistics Center; it offers everything from porous borders enabling countless jihadi return tickets from Syria to Europe, facilitated by corrupt police, to a convenient crossroads for all kinds of smuggling and a hefty money laundering ops.” (Sultan Erdogan’s War on…Russia, Pepe Escobar, Sputnik)
Escobar sums up Ankara’s role in Syria as succinctly as anyone. Erdogan has been ISIS best friend, of that, there is little doubt. The problem that Turkey faces now is that the Russian-led coalition is rapidly destroying the infrastructure that provides funding for ISIS, (oil refineries, fields and transport) while gradually retaking territory that was formally-controlled by the many anti-regime or al Qaida-linked groups in the north, west and central parts of the country. In the last few days alone, Russia and Co. have concluded the encirclement of Syria’s biggest city, Aleppo, vaporized a convoy of over 500 oil trucks in the vicinity of Raqqa, and intensified their bombing in the Turkmen Mountains, the Kurdish Mountains, and the Prophet Jonah Mountains. The coalition has moved as far north as Azaz along the Turkish border and recaptured the strategic Aleppo-Raqqa highway which completely cuts off ISIS supply-route from the east in Raqqa. All of the recent progress comes in the wake of the retaking of the strategic Kuweris Airbase which was the tipping point in the 4 and a half year-long conflict. Now the Russian coalition has focused on closing the border, a move that will sever vital supply-lines to pro-Turkish militias operating in Syria and force the terrorists to either flee or surrender. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized this point last week saying, “We are convinced that by blocking the border we will in many respects solve the tasks to eradicate terrorism on Syrian soil.”
Keep in mind, that Erdogan is not the only one with designs on the so-called “Afrin-Jarabulus corridor” east of the Euphrates. Powerful politicians in the US, including John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and others, have all alluded to this area as the most suitable location for a no-fly zone. And, despite the fact that Obama refuses to send US ground forces to fight in Syria, he has continued to fuel the conflict in other less conspicuous ways. Just last Wednesday, under the cover of the Thanksgiving holiday when the media was preoccupied with other matters, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 which provides another $800 million in aid to armed extremists in Syria and Ukraine. The NDAA, which effectively prevents the closing down of US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo), reflects Obama’s determination to continue Washington’s vicious policy in Syria which has resulted in the deaths of more than 250,000 and the displacement of 11 million more.
This helps to explain why the Russian offensive has set alarms off in Washington; it’s because the US plan to establish a permanent staging ground for terrorists in N Syria is quickly going up in smoke.