It’s one year since Turkey launched its devastating ‘Peace Spring’ operation, green-lit by Donald Trump and primarily targeting the Kurds in North and East Syria. The invasion displaced an initial wave of 200,000 IDPs, including most of the Kurdish and all of the local Yezidi and Christian minorities, plus large numbers of Arabs.
Since then, Turkey has been installing Sunni Arab militias in this formerly diverse, tolerant and secular region, responsible for a wide range of war crimes and atrocities against the civilian population, according to the UN.
Now, a new Rojava Information Center report reveals the identities of over 40 former ISIS members being sheltered, funded and protected by Turkey in the occupied regions. The report reveals that many ISIS commanders, fighters and emirs are now on the Turkish payroll, using Turkish-issued ID cards and receiving commands from Turkish intelligence as part of the Turkish-controlled ‘Syrian National Army’.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) is generally recognized as providing the highest levels of religious and ethnic tolerance, human rights and respect for rule of law of any actor in Syria. Since their occupation, Sere Kaniye and Tel Abyad have moved from a situation of relative peace, secularism and prosperity to one in which Turkish-controlled armed groups commit a wide range of war crimes against the civilian population, including raping women, torture, summary executions, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, forcibly confining women to the home, and in some instances the imposition of a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Far from acting to combat terror, then, Turkey’s invasions and installation of the SNA in regions formerly controlled by SNA have provided safe havens for globally-wanted terrorists. US airstrikes regularly target top-level militants linked to al-Qaeda or ISIS,
moving freely in Turkish-controlled territory. In 2019, Rojava Information Center published a widely-covered report identifying over 40 former ISIS members now part of Turkish-backed forces in Afrin. They include former emirs, commanders and those responsible for coordinating jihadist fighters with their handlers in the Turkish military intelligence services (MIT).
The present report expands on this work. Applying a more stringent methodology, it identifies over 40 former ISIS members now safely sheltered as part of Turkish-controlled factions in Sere Kaniye and Tel Abyad, many for the first time. Along with previous RIC reports addressing the dire humanitarian situation in the occupied areas, it constitutes further evidence that Turkey is acting as a state sponsor of terror. These regions now serve as a launching-pad for Turkey’s regional expansion, transferring fighters from these same militias to represent its interests from the Mediterranean through to the Caucuses.
As a U.S. State Department notice signed by Donald Trump recently noted, Turkey’s offensives in NES “pose an extraordinary threat to U.S. national & security foreign policy… endanger civilians, undermine the campaign to defeat ISIS… and undermine regional security and stability.” Both U.S. Presidental candidates should therefore publicly and concretely commit to preventing any further Turkish military actions against North and East Syria through diplomatic, economic and if necessary military means.
Download the full report here, and contact Rojava Information Center for further comment, analysis and information.