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Obama’s Muslim Brotherhood Strategy, the ‘War’ Against Jihadism, and Russia’s Syria Intervention, Part 3: Obama’s America and Erdogan’s Turkey

photo obama syria

by Gordon M. Hahn

{See Parts 1-2 at}

The Obama Administration and Erdogan’s Turkey

U.S.-Turkish relations in the Obama and Erdogan eras got off to a good start. The two were characterized to be on “friendly” terms. Again, this was likely a function of, or at least facilitated by Obama’s sympathy for moderate Islamic elements. In 2011—the year of Egypt’s MB-led January revolution—Obama spoke to Erdogan by phone at least nine times – more than with any national leader other than those of the United Kingdom and Germany. ( In November of that year, The Washington Post called the Obama-Erdogan relationship “the best relationship between a U.S. president and a Turkish prime minister in decades” (

By 2013, with the MB regime’s demise, U.S.-Turkish relations were on the skids. However, with the deepening of the Syrian civil war and IS crises in Iraq, Turkey moved to the vanguard in Obama’s policy of supporting the MB and other Islamists’ and jihadists’ opposition to Assad. To be sure, the relationship felt strain over issues related to Turkey’s increasingly dysfunctional democracy and domestic politics, including by Erdogan’s crackdowns on freedom of speech and media and the U.S. refusal to extradite opposition religious leader Fetullah Gulen wanted to stand trial in Turkey. According to some, Turkey’s antagonism of Israel in the form of ‘humanitarian’ flotillas to the Palestinians also contributed to tensions, but the Obama administration itself has been no laggard in antagonizing Israel not least by backing the MB revolution in Egypt. Relations deteriorated further when in October 2014 a divergence of interests emerged over strategy in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or IS or Daesh), which now threatened to seize the northern Iraqi city of Kobani. Washington flew in supplies to the Kurdish PYD defending the city—an action strongly condemned by Ankara. In response, Washington complained that the supply of the PYD would not have been necessary if Turkish forces granted the Kurdish peshmerga free passage to Kobani to reinforce anti-IS forces. Nevertheless, Erdogan was able to trade on Turkey’s overall highly supportive role in Syria against Assad and Washington’s failure in Egypt and keep relations stable. if not garner concessions by Washington regarding its domestic dilemmas. In short, Erdogan’s strong efforts in support of the Syrian MB and against Assad kept the relationship afloat despite disagreements over the Kurds. What was the nature of Erdogan’s efforts that so endeared him to the Obama administration? How central were they to the Obama administration’s foreign policy objectives?

Turkey and the MB

The answer is simple: Turkey became pivotal for the Obama administration’s ‘Arab Spring’ policy and MB strategy. As the Washington Post noted. According to a Washington Post account, except for a dustup over a 2010 Turkish vote in the UN against US-backed sanctions against Iran, Obama and Erdogan “frequently agree on policy” and enjoy a “consensus on the Arab Spring,” adding: “Turkey’s statements on the uprisings in Middle Eastern and North African nations pushed Obama to appreciate Turkey — a large, Muslim NATO member that uniquely satisfies Obama’s quest to find powerful allies that have a majority-Muslim population and are happy to work with the United States.” ( Obama’s quest for powerful Muslim allies through his MB strategy could be advanced by Ankara’s long-standing ties to the MB. As a result, Washington and Ankara would cooperate closely in Syria until IS, Iraq, and Russia threw a monkey wrench into the operations.

The MB’s association with Turkey started in the 1960s, when it developed ties with Necmettin Erbakan, who laid out his ideology in 1969 booklet ‘Milli Gorus’ (The National View) proposing the idea of a pan-Muslim unity. In thus way, Erbakan’s view resembled the MB’s orientation around the idea of an ‘Islamic nation.’ Erbakan founded an eponymous organization, which de facto was the MB’s Turkish branch and had today’s president Erdogan as a member. After the 1980 coup, the military banned Erbakan and his party from politics, but he subsequently created a series of Islamic parties.

As Prime Minister in 1996-97, Erbakan initiated creation of the ‘D-8’ group of developing countries; all of them majority Islamic, including the MB’s homeland of Egypt. Erbakan backed a growing Islamization of Turkey and thus in 1997 was forced to resign from the premiership under pressure from the military. Throughout this period, Erbakan and others developed close ties with the MB in Egypt and Syria, and Turkey took in hundreds of Egyptian and Syrian MB members seeking refuge from the Mubarak and Assad regimes, respectively. At the same time, his successors would gradually improve relations with those same regimes. In 1998, Erbakan’s Welfare Party was banned by the constitutional court for violating the principle of the separation of religion and state.

Erdogan, an Erbakan follower, has followed his path of leading Islamic parties. Given their close relations and the compatibility between their ideologies and strategies, Erdogan’s JDP is considered by many to be a Muslim Brotherhood faction. The JDP ideology’s main tenets are explicitly secular, but its policy preferences play into certain aspects of an implicit Islamic, even Islamist orientation. The fact is that Turkey’s constitutional secularism requires any Islamic or Islamist parties to avoid crossing the threshold of perception that its agenda is more religious than secular. The JDP is seen by one analyst as a more successful effort to not cross that line in the wake of the four failed attempts by Erbakan, Erdogan’s mentor (

Whether the party is predominantly Islamist or secular has been a central debate in Turkish politics since the JDP’s founding in August 2001. The party consists of a coaltion of socially conservative factions in Turkish society, including Islamists and reform Islamists as well as more secular conservatives, nationalists, and business interests. The policies of Eerdogan and the JDP when in power began to fuel charges that the JDP has a hidden Islamist agenda. Erdoğan’sill-fated, short-lived attempt to criminalize adultery in 2004 and subsequent efforts to discourage the sale of alcohol did more than raise eyebrows. His appointment of religious conservatives to the bureaucracy raised more concerns. In 2006-2008, the AKP sought to desecularize certain aspects of education, pushing an end to the ban on women wearing the Islamic headscarves (hijab) in universities and terminating special requirements for graduation exams in Islamic high schools. When in 2007 Erdoğan announced his plan to nominate his equally Islamic-oreinted Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to the presidency, the military stepped in on behalf of the secularist opposition threatening a coup by way of an ‘e-coup’ or warning on its website that it took seriously its constitutional role as “the absolute defenders of secularism.” Erdogan called the generals’ bluff, called new elections, and won a near JDP majority (47 percent compared with 34 percent in the previous elections). Forming a coalition easily, Erdogan appointed Gul to the presidency. Turkey’s economic boom led to further electoral victories. In 2008, the state prosecutor nearly succeeded in getting the high court to ban the JDP. When faced with mass resignations in by the military’s high command in 2011, Edogan carried out mass arrests of generals on charges of planning a coup and dozens of top generals were imprisoned. The main guarantor of the separation of Islam and state had been sidelined as a force in Turkish politics, permitting Erdogan to implement many of his Islamic policies (such as the hijab ban) and develop closer ties to the MB.

The party’s close relationship with the MB fueled charges of a hidden Islamist agenda as well. To be sure, to a certain extent support for the MB was a way to challenge certain Arab competitors in service of Ankara’s aspirations to leadership in the Muslims world, expressed in the D-8. Regardless, many Brotherhood leaders moved to Turkey owing to its own “historic reconciliation” with, and its sponsorship of reconciliation between the Syrian and Egyptian regimes. This created favorable conditions for better relations with the MB abroad. Although Erdogan proselytized an ideology of “democratic conservatism” and the image of a civilized, secular Islam, oriented on the Sufist thought of Shamsuddin al-Tabrizi and Jalaluddin Rumi—despised by the MB and other Islamists—some Turkish Islamists used the opening to Egypt to explore MB ideological sources. They translated the letters of MB founder Hassan al-Banna, the books of its leading ideologist and the 20th century’s most influential Islamic and jihadist theorist Sayyid Qutb, and other radical thinkers of ‘political Islam.’ Additionally, another potent force nudging the JDP towards Islamic/Islamist principles is the Cemaat Movement (or Gulen Movement) of the exiled, U.S.-based Fethullah Gulen, whose operatives are numerous in Turkey’s state bureaucracy and judiciary. Although Gulen has helped to weaken the opposition to the JDP, its quasi-Islamist orientation buttresses Islamist trends infiltrating Turkey from today’s Islamist-revolutionary Muslim world.

These Islamic and Islamist influences began to transform Turkish society substantially and the JDP on the edges, especially as the Erdogan moved to his neo-Ottoman foreign policy (implied first by the D-8) and as the Islamic umma radicalized under the Islamist and jihadist onslaught in the last decades of the 20the century. Thus, the JDP has afforded the MB an even more pervasive presence in Turkey. It has afforded broad business and cultural opportunities for MB businessmen, whose enterprises function as MB front groups in many countries. For example, the MB had a strong presence at the 2006 celebrations of 533rd anniversary of the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in Instanbul (

Erdogan’s Neo-Ottoman Foreign Policy and the MB

In foreign policy, Erdogan has conducted a nationalistic, neo-Ottoman policy of seeking to maximize Turkish influence in territories formerly of the Ottoman Empire and of Turkish culture. This would include much of the MENA region as well as the Caucasus (including potentially Russia’s North Caucasus), especially Azerbaijan, and all but Tajikistan in Central Asia in Russia’s sphere of influence. This ‘Turkish world’ project is akin to Putin’s ‘Russian world,’ but unlike the latter neither the former nor any of Erdogan’s reactionary policies have provoked so much as a frown from Washington or Brussels.

The growing support from Erdogan and the JDP for the MB was part of the so-called ‘neo-Ottoman’ foreign policy being conducted by Erdogan and its architect, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. That support can be seen in Turkey’s recent relations with Iran, Hamas, Egypt and Syria. Erdogan deepened Turkey’s ties to Iran and the Hamas government in Gaza. The AKP facilitated humanitarian aid to Gaza, including the so-called ‘humanitarian flotillas’, which Israel claimed included arms shipments. These policies undermined what had been the closest relations with Israel had by any Islamic country, with Erdoğan acting as mediator between Israel and Syria briefly during 2007 and 2008.

Ankara’s growing ties with the international MB over the decades led to its full support for the 2011 MB-led revolution in Egypt. After Morsi’s removal, Erdogan accused Western countries and the Islamic world of failing to stand against Sisi’s coup and the ensuing crackdown and claimed he had documents showing Israel had played a role in the coup ( Erdogan reportedly shed tears when Sisi’s security forces cracked down on the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in in 2013, and has since expressed interest in restoring “the era of Islamic rule.” Turkey became the main destination for the Egyptian MB brothers seeking refuge abroad. Istanbul and Ankara hosted many Egyptian and general opposition meetings planning action against the new military regime under Sisi.

Istanbul hosted two main conferences. The first, on July 10, was held at a hotel near Ataturk airport and hosted leaders from MB’s international organization, such as Youssef Nada (the offshore tycoon who is one of the main supporters of the Brotherhood), Rashed al-Ghanoushi, Mohammad Riyad al-Shafaka, and representatives from the Hamas movement. The conference adopted a “patience strategy” based on a study of the post-coup political situation prepared by the MB’s International Center for Studies and Training and proposing carrying out awareness campaigns, sparking internecine conflict, calling for civil obedience, and occupying key government institutions. A second meeting examined the implications and consequences of what happened to the MB in Egypt for its branches in Tunisia, Sudan, Jordan and Algeria and continuing obstacles for the free movement of MB personnel in the GCC countries. Participants came from Morocco, Malaysia, Mauritania, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Kurdistan-Iraq. Istanbul hosted another meeting on September 25 and 26, in which MB personnel participated as members of the Islamic Parliamentarians Union. In 2014 Turkish Intelligence officer Irshad Hoz was arrested in Egypt for helping funnel weapons and activists to the MB in Egypt (

Erdoğan’s Turkey initially had sterling relations with Syria’s Assad, whom he called his “brother.” However, immediately after the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Ankara called for Assad to resign and opened Turkey for Syria’s opposition, rebels and s. Erdogan’s support for the MB became a resource that today’s ‘Porte’ would use to increase its influence inside Syria and, when instability emerged, it would attempt to parlay its leverage into an installation of a pro-Turkish regime in Damascus, if not destabilize the country in order to take contested territories in northwest Syria around Aleppo and weaken Kurdish elements in northeast Syria and northern Iraq. As noted above, Turkey provided most of the exiled members of the Syrian MB. Istanbul hosted the October 2011 conference that led to the founding of the anti-Assad SNC, dominated by the Syrian MB. Exiled Syrian MB members would comprise a quarter of the SNC and, together with the ‘Group of 74’, MB and former MB members constituted the most influential force in the SNC (;; and The SNC fighters’ would, in turn, be the first major recipients of U.S., Western and Arab military assistance, much of which would end up in the hands of Islamist and jihadist elements among the SNC fighters and their allies.

The Sickman of NATO: Turkey’s Democracy Deficit

One purpose touted for NATO expansion is to establish not just a military alliance but a security zone for and by democracies. Democratic regimes, according to the reigning ‘democratic peace’ theory, do not go to war with each other and are less likely to spark wars with non-democracies, thus strengthening international security and stability. One of the reasons those in the West opposed Russia’s membership in NATO when expansion began in the mid-1990s was that Russia was ostensibly insufficiently democratic. At the time, some, including myself, pointed to the two military coups and human rights violations in prisons in NATO member Turkey. But Turkey, long a NATO member, has been suffering in the last few decades from a significant and growing democracy deficit.

Initially careful to avoid an Islamic image, under Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (JDP or AKP), the Turkish state has become more repressive, corrupt, and pro-Islamic, if not Islamist, betraying Kemal Ataturk’s military-led secularizing revolution from above at the end of the First World War. Since the end of Erdogan’s initial political and judicial reforms from 2002-2006, the trend is towards a substantial de-democratization bordering on a domestically-driven imposed transition to authoritarian rule.  Massive corruption and violations of free speech and the rights of minorities such as the Kurds have grown exponentially, adding to the downside ledger of NATO’s sickman. In addition, Turkey has adopted a neo-Ottoman foreign policy that seeks to establish Ankara’s hegemony in territories formerly belonging to the Porte or of Turkish culture.

In 2010, for example the AKP initiated a referendum which approved a package of constitutional amendments, one of which effectively terminated the independence of the judiciary branch, subordinating it to the executive branch. Controversially, the package had an assortment of items covering a very wide range of critical constitutional issues which were voted for in bulk, as part of a whole package, rather than one by one. This itself was an undemocratic approach, not so common in any other constitutional system in the world. Yet the package’s most critical items were the ones regarding Turkey’s judicial system. The amendments reorganized the structure and functioning of the supreme court system so it became subject to executive branch administrative decrees. In spring 2012, Erdogan’s party passed a legislation in parliament excluding privatization transactions approved by the executive branch from review by the courts; a move that facilitated an already growing pattern of corruption. Corruption has mounted in and around Erdogan and his JDP for years, highlighted most recently by the involvement of Erdogan’s son in the oil trade between the Islamic State and Ankara.

Tens of Turkish journalists have been harassed or imprisoned by the government in the last several years. For example, in May 2015, the Turkish daily ‘Cumhuriyet‘ published a video from 2014 showing customs agents impounding a truck owned by Turkey’s MIT with manifest indicating it was carrying humanitarian assistance, which was actually transporting a cache of ammunition and shells to Islamist rebels in Syria. Erdogan vowed at the time to prosecute Cumhuriyet. However, it was only after Turkey’s downing of the Russian Su-24 that he carried through on the threat. On November 27th two of the paper’s journalists were arrested and on charged with espionage and aiding a terrorist organization. The next week, three Turkish military officers also were arrested on similar charges.

Erdogan’s relations with the military have been rocky.  As the state institution which Kemal Ataturk used to establish dual sovereignty and a revolutionary situation and thus seize power in one of the first revolutions from above, the military historically has functioned as the guardian of the Ataturk constitution’s strict separation of religion and state. Thus, contrary to the principle of democratic civil-military relations, the Turkish military has a considerable role in the country’s politics; hence, the several military coups in the course of its history. Three years ago tens of top-ranking officers were imprisoned on charges of plotting a coup. This might explain his increasingly aggressive use of Turkish troops against the Kurds at home and abroad in the last year–better to have them focused on the country’s periphery and abroad rather sitting closer to seat of the power with more time on their hands to plot a coup. Turkey’s inherently tense civil-military relations are yet another source of potential instability and re-authoritarianization for Ankara.

This is all the more so, since Erdogan has moved somewhat away from Turkey’s secularist mandate by drawing on Islamic traditions and myths in both domestic and foreign policy. Thus, in 2012, the AKP rushed through parliament with violations of parliamentary procedure, an education reform that appeared to be an attempt to introduce Islamic education into the state schools system. On the surface, the reform entailed a shift from the two-stage educational ladder of 8 primary and 4 high school years to a three-stage 4+4+4 system. The new system offered an option for students to take a “vocational route” after the first 4 years, minus the full benefit of the 8-year “secular route” in primary education. A second option at the second phase was study-at-home provide the student to continue his/her primary education after the 4th year at home and take exams from outside the school system. Suspicions that the vocational and home-study tracks were introduced to introduce Islamic education were reinforced by the law’s clause introducing courses on the life and teachings of Mohammed—“our” prophet, as the law reads. The draft legislation became law just two weeks after the proposal was first announced, and over 20 articles of the proposed law were adopted in less than 20 minutes in parliament. All this occurred just weeks after a speech by Erdogan to his party’s youth organization in which he declared the goal of creating a “religious youth” (

Erdogan has refused the Kurds any autonomy whatsoever and allows his military and security organs to carry out often brutal attacks on Kurdish villages. More recently, his army has made incursions into northern Iraq and Syria to attack Kurdish villages and forces there, undermining the Kurds’ strong efforts against IS.

In foreign policy, under pressure from the rise of the global jihadi revolutionary movement in the region and the opposition-oriented, quasi-Islamist Gulen movement, Erdogan has increasingly demonstrated support for radical elements including the Palestinian MB-affiliate Hamas and more recently Islamist and jihadist Syrian opposition groups.

At the same time, Turkey has become a haven for global jihadists from across the world, forming networks from diasporas located in Turkey connected to immigrants’ countries of origin such as Russia (Chechens, Dagestanis and Circassians), Central Asia, and elsewhere. Turkey was literally crawling with North Caucasian facilitators and former fighters from Russia’s AQ ally, the Caucasus Emirate (CE). Indeed, the brother of the CE’s founding amir, Doku Umarov (2007-2013) has long lived in Turkey and served as the CE’s foreign spokesman, and North Caucasians frequently hold demonstrations in support of the CE. Now, after the CE’s split and the defection of most of its amirs and mujahedin to the IS’s new affiliate in the North Caucasus—Vilaiyat Kavkaz Islamskogo Gosudarstva (the Caucasus Vilaiyat of the Islamic State)—this year, mujahedin transit Turkey and Azerbaijan between the Levant and Russia and likely elsewhere in Eurasia. The Turkish rarely if ever detain these mujahedin. As the LA Times belatedly acknowledged: “Until last year, when Turkey yielded to international pressure and tightened controls on who could enter the country, bearded men sporting military-style backpacks and clothing were a common sight at the airports in Istanbul, Antakya and Gaziantep. From there, they would be whisked off to Islamic State safe houses near the border and then into Syria” (Bulos, “Downing of Russian warplane shines a light on Turkey’s shadowy links to extremists”). But this was but the tip of an enormous iceberg of Turkish involvement with IS and other jihadists in Syria.

The Sickman in Syria

Until Russia’s late September 2015 military intervention in Syria and especially after Russian documentation of Turkish support for Syria’s Islamists and jihadists, Western governments and media–with rare exceptions like Hersh–ignored Turkey’s role as the main sponsor of the anti-Assad rebellion. This included major support for jihadi extremist AQ-linked groups like JN, Ahrar al-Sham, Jeish al-Islam, the umbrella groups Jeish al-Fateh as well as IS. U.S. By October 2014 some Obama administration officials were beginning to spill the beans to media on Turkey’s support for jihadists, to be sure, in an effort to scapegoat Ankara and skirt responsibility for its own policies in Libya and Syria, described above (in Parts 1 and 2). One told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Washington believed “Turkey was playing a double game in Syria, lending at least covert moral support to Islamic State while avoiding doing so in public.” The official did not know if Turkey was providing financial or military support to IS, but said the administration believed Ankara was “partnering with Qatar in providing support to Islamist factions and militias in Libya.” He specified that Turkey’s ruling AK party “long had a policy of covertly seeking accommodations, if not actually trying to ingratiate itself, with Islamist groups” ( The same month, Vice President Biden’s statement would likewise indicate that Turkey, the ‘Emiratis’ and other Arab states had been active in financing and supplying weapons to jihadi groups, though it revealed that the administration had to have been long aware of this. This was another administration effort to scapegoat Turkey and other allies for a policy Washington had initiated.

The declassified documents and testimony of former U.S. military and intelligence officials mentioned above (Parts 1 and 2) began to break down the wall of silence. The confluence of Russian military action in Syria and newly released US documents has now exposed this new U.S. debacle in the fight against jihadism, leading to some significant, limited albeit, mainstream media coverage. That has provided some more detail on the covert effort and, in particular, Turkey’s key role in it. It can be said that Turkey’s ability to ‘co-opt’ the clandestine operation to support Syria’s rebels was a logical consequence of another central Obama strategy – ‘leading from behind.’

In December 2015 the Los Angeles Times suddenly decided to report that Turkey had been supporting all factions of the Syrian opposition, including jihadists, since 2011: “But in November 2011, as Syrian authorities violently put down largely peaceful anti-government protests, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan aligned himself with what he called the ‘glorious resistance’ and said it was time for Assad to step down.” But Erdogan, Turkey and the entire West had remained dead silent when the very same type of crackdown on peaceful demonstrators occurred in Bahrain with the help of Saudi troops equipped with U.S.-supplied tanks ( and The LA Times continues: “Since then (2011), fighters and arms have regularly flowed between the two countries and Ankara has given weapons to the opposition and organized logistical support.” “Turkey’s shadowy connection with the militant group Islamic State has caused the most concern”; a connection that the LA Times suggests began in 2012 and lasted at least until mid-2014 (Nabih Bulos, “Downing of Russian warplane shines a light on Turkey’s shadowy links to extremists,” Los Angeles Times, 1 December 2015).

In fact, Turkey’s MIT, began the organization of Syrian military defectors into Western-backed groups under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) early on. To this day, FSA elements meet in Turkey at the CIA intelligence center, the Joint Operations Center (JOC), that trains allegedly well-vetted rebels and provides them with the U.S.-made TOW antitank missiles used to hit Syrian and Russian military targets. Turkish assistance also has strengthened jihadists. It has boosted the fortunes of the ‘Jeish al-Fateh’ (Army of Conquest) or JaF jihadi coalition that includes several AQ-affiliated groups, among them the well-known affiliate ‘Jabhat al-Nusrah’ (JaN) and ‘Ahrar al-Sham’ (AaS), and seized all of Idlib province bordering Latakia in an offensive backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia in March. Since then, the coalition saw the defection of one its member-organizations for reasons that confirmed Turkey’s involvement with the Syrian jihadists. AQ ally ‘Jund al-Aqsa’ (JaA) left the JF coalition. The JaA justified its exit on the basis of AaS’s ties to the West and “regional nations” (read: Turkey and Saudi Arabia) and pressure on the jihadists to fight IS (

What the Los Angeles Times refers to as “economic ties” between Turkey and jihadi fighters, specifically JaF, amounts to much more–the financing of international terrorist organizations, more correctly referred to to as global jihadi revolutionary organizations. Citing a 2015 United Nations study, it highlighted two Turkish-Syrian border crossings handling “more than 300 trucks a day”, trafficked more heavily than before the war, and run by JaF which takes in “an estimated $660,000 a day in revenue” at these crossings (Bulos, “Downing of Russian warplane shines a light on Turkey’s shadowy links to extremists”). Certainly some of this traffic involves weapons. Other sources provide further evidence that Turkey has been leading in supplying of weapons to jihadi groups. Evidence has been uncovered by Turkish journalists and military officers–leading to their arrest–and may have been the reason Turkey shot down the Russian war place on November 24th (see below).

When Russian entered the war and hit IS with 20 percent of its attacks, American and other Western governments and media reported that Russia was not hitting any jihadists–only ‘US-backed moderate rebels’. It would only be after Russia’s military intervention that similar but in this case more real withholding of support by Turkey to one of the most effective forces fighting against IS–the Kurdish Peshmerga–would be reported in US media. The LA Times suddenly raised the issue: “Questions have been raised about Erdogan’s hands-off strategy during Islamic State’s assault on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani last year. The town was saved after an eleventh-hour bombing campaign by the U.S.-led coalition, but many saw the Turkish government’s recalcitrance as an effort to block the possibility of a Kurdish state being established in Syrian territories… Although Turkish warplanes did fly some sorties against Islamic State targets, they focused mostly on positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey, Syria and Iraq (Nabih Bulos, “Downing of Russian warplane shines a light on Turkey’s shadowy links to extremists,” Los Angeles Times, 1 December 2015). Yet we never read a slew of editorials and other articles from the LA Times, its parent paper The Washington Post, or any other liberal mass media in the West about this failure to attack IS aggressively.

‘Erdogan’s hands-off strategy’ of course was anything but. The evidence has mounted that IS’s sale of oil from Mosul and other locations is bought by Turkey or by others passed on Through Turkey. In mid-2014 IS oil from wells in Syria was being sold through Turkey to black market traders active across the Levant, according to Middle East expert Ted Karasik, research director at Dubai-based think tank INEGMA ( Despite months of bombing of IS targets in Iraq by the US-led coalition, Britain’s The Guardian reported in late 2014, IS oil was re-sold from Kurdistan to both Turkish and Iranian traders ( The previously silent Financial Times also joined in the post-Russian intervention expose` fest in mid-October (see Erika Solomon, Guy Chazan, and Sam Jones, “Isis Inc: how oil fuels the jihadi terrorists,” Financial Times, 14 October 2015,

In addition, there are not yet fully substantiated claims that the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are the main operators and beneficiaries of Turkish purchase, transport, and re-sale of IS oil, thereby financing the terrorist group as it sells it sends it weapons. The Russian Defense Ministry published hundreds of videos on December 2nd documenting the Turkish destination of IS oil and asserted that President Erdogan and his son Bilal are behind this contraband business that violates a UN resolution on helping to finance IS ( President Putin reiterated the charge the same day. One wonders why Russia also chose to remain silent on this score until the Turkish shootdown of Russia’s Su-24 and the Turkmen rebels’ killing of one of the escaping pilots. A few intrepid Western media sources joined in reporting President Erdogan’s son Bilal’s involvement in the IS oil scheme after Russia’s intervention (

The chief of the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, Hakan Fidan has defended openly Turkey’s support for IS: “ISIS is a reality and we have to accept that we cannot eradicate a well-organized and popular establishment such as the Islamic State; therefore I urge my western colleagues to revise their mindset about Islamic political currents, put aside their cynical mentalité and thwart Vladimir Putin’s plans to crush Syrian Islamist revolutionaries” (,-isis-is-a-reality-and-we-are-optimistic-about-the-future and Anadolu News Agency, 29 November 2015).

The Turks had thrown down the gauntlet at Moscow’s feet openly. But Moscow had been following the more closed course of events in Washington, Brussels, Libya, and the Levant closely for years, finding unexpected friends in unexpected places and expected foes in expected places. The combination would produce a watershed shift in Russian foreign policy conduct by autumn 2015.

That development is the subject of the fourth and final part in this series.


  1. Thanks for your research on important things, Dr. Gorden.
    …would be glad if i could find parts 1&2 of this series. The link on the top is not working on my phone.

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