Gwynne Dyer: The issue with Turkey’s open border

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      Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in London last week, telling the Western media how helpful Ankara was being in the struggle against the terrorist “Islamic State” that has emerged in northern Syria and Iraq. Turkey is doing everything it can, he said—although, of course, “We cannot put troops everywhere on the border.”

      Turkey’s open border has become a sore point with its Western allies, who suspect that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is deliberately allowing a steady flow of recruits and supplies to “Islamic State” because he still wants the Sunni rebels, most of whom are jihadi extremists, to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s Shia ruler. (Erdogan is no jihadi, but he is a devout and militant Sunni Islamist.)

      But Erdogan’s motives are irrelevant, because Turkey simply cannot put troops everywhere on its 820 km border with Syria. Or so says Ahmet Davutoglu, and only an enemy of Turkey (or somebody with a grasp of basic mathematics) would say otherwise.

      I am no enemy of Turkey, but I can do basic arithmetic. If you stationed Turkish troops along the entire length of the Syrian border at 10-metre intervals—that’s enough for a machine-gun nest every fifty metres—it would take about 82,000 soldiers to cover the entire 820 km. The strength of the Turkish army (never mind the navy and air force) is 315,000 soldiers.

      Maybe Turkey doesn’t have that many machine-guns, but it’s not a poor country, and machine-guns are quite cheap on the international market. Or maybe it would prefer to use some other equipment instead: a good fence and some motion-detectors would help. But the main requirement is manpower, and not very highly skilled manpower at that. The Turkish army has a few other jobs, but not any high-priority ones.

      Even if you allow for frequent rotation of the soldiers manning the border, it would take much less than half the strength of the Turkish army to shut the border to foreign fighters. Maybe a few jihadis would still get through, but the vast majority wouldn’t. The only reason Ankara doesn’t shut the border is that it doesn’t really want to.

      Cutting off the flow of jihadi volunteers to Syria would not greatly change the local military balance: IS uses them mostly as mere cannon-fodder. The point is that Turkey is not fully committed to the destruction of Islamic State, and indeed will give IS deniable help in order to further the goal of a Sunni victory in Syria, despite being part a “coalition of the willing” that is nominally dedicated to destroying IS.

      The same goes for Saudi Arabia, although it has sent some token aircraft to bomb IS. Riyadh tries to prevent any Saudi citizens from going to fight for IS, and it certainly does not want the IS brand of radicalism to come to the kingdom. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has already started building a 900 km high-tech wall along its border with Iraq to stop IS activists from entering the country.

      But it is not a long way from the Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam that is promoted by Saudi Arabia to the “takfiri-salafist” doctrines espoused by the IS militants. Saudi private individuals have been a major source of financing for IS, and until recently Riyadh just turned a blind eye to it. Even now Saudi Arabia doesn’t want Islamic State destroyed if that means Assad gets to stay in power in Syria.

      Then there’s Iran. In Iraq, where Islamic State controls half the country’s territory and threatens a Shia-dominated regime, Iran and the United States are fighting almost side-by-side to defend Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s government. (They don’t actually talk to each other, but they each tell the Iraqis where they are planning to bomb so there are no collisions over the target areas.)

      But next-door, in Syria, it’s different. Iran has sent troops, weapons and money to defend Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while the United States is still pledged to overthrow it. They both see Islamic State (which controls about a third of Syria’s territory) as an enemy, but Washington still believes that it can create some other, more “moderate” army of Sunni rebels that will eventually take Assad down.

      And Russia, of course, still supplies Assad with weapons, money and diplomatic support – but despite its own difficulties with jihadi rebels back home in the North Caucasus, Moscow is not participating in the military campaign against Islamic State. Its quarrel with the United States over Ukraine is too fierce to permit that degree of cooperation elsewhere.

      And so on, and so forth. Not one of the major outside powers that is opposed to Islamic State in principle has a clear strategy for fighting it, nor are they willing to cooperate with one another.

      So IS will survive, at least for some years to come, despite the horrors it inflicts on the innocent people under its control. It may even expand a bit more, though the end of the siege of Kobane shows that it is far from unstoppable.



      I Chandler

      Jan 26, 2015 at 5:32pm

      DYER: "Cutting off jihadis volunteers, would not change the local military balance...Ukraine is"

      Balance or chaos? Mercenary volunteers should be given language training asap: "Out Of My Face Please"

      DYER: "And so on, and so forth. None of the outside powers that are opposed to isis in principle..."

      And so on, and so forth? It's all so complicated that it might cause a headache. It's so strange that Clinton and Blair don't seem troubled by the chaos:

      Rear Admiral Kubic says Gadhafi could've been ousted peacefully - Instead of arming al-Qaida:

      "The allied bombing of Libya began in 2011, the Obama administration rejected an offer by Moammar Gadhafi to engage in negotiations to abdicate, according to a retired U.S. Navy officer who says he was prepared to broker the deal.

      Kubic began email and tele contact March, 2011, between Tripoli and AFRICOM in Stuttgart, to broker an offer by Gadhafi to engage in talks with the US under a truce...Gadhafi even pulled his forces back from several Libyan cities as a sign of good faith.

      The report detailed the precise chain of communications with the U.S. government regarding the possibility Gadhafi would abdicate and obviate the need for the U.S. to join with NATO to back the al-Qaida-affiliated militia seeking to depose the dictator."

      DYER: "Saudi private individuals - a major source of financing for IS"

      King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud left behind $500K in jewels to the comedic genius Clinton:

      Blair Shrugs Off Blame for Chaos Fomented by Invasion of Iraq. Excusing the Neocons, Blair says the problem, which in formal and informal education systems. The release of the Chilcot Inquiry will be delayed until after British elections in May. A letter from Tony Blair's to Colonel Gaddafi reveals collusion between the UK and Libyan regimes. see the Dear Muaamar letter:

      DYER: "The same goes for Saudi Arabia, although it has sent token aircraft to bomb IS."

      The ISIS’ Air Force Repeatedly Bombs Syria:
      "The attacks have been close to the capital Damascus, and reportedly taken out agricultural facilities and warehouses. Why are we fighting on the same side as terrorists? "


      Jan 26, 2015 at 7:51pm

      If stopping the flow of jihadi volunteers into Syria truly wouldn't affect the military balance (and I think that's debatable), then perhaps there's no need to choose between a sealed or a leaky Turkish/Syrian border.

      An enforced one-way boundary that permitted the recruits to enter but not to leave would serve both Turkey and the West. From the Turkish point of view, every jihadi who crossed that border would be one more problem for the Assad regime. From a western security standpoint, every jihadi who fails to come home to Brussels, London, or Paris is one less to worry about.

      A win - win solution, unless you're unfortunate enough to actually live in Syria.


      Jan 26, 2015 at 9:24pm

      Turkey has been very clear that there has to be a no fly zone. why pretend there is a riddle when there is not?

      Turkey does not want to end up like Pakistan in supporting Western intervention, especially one that allows Assad to carry on genocide in Syria


      Jan 26, 2015 at 9:27pm

      I would add that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are on same page. You can not ignore Israel especially since it is only country that gas conducted air strikes against Assad regime and Iranian/Lebanese Shiite Islamist militants