Turkey’s new enemy at the gates

Turkey’s new enemy at the gates

Turkey has officially denied its troops cooperated in the raid against the al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia which recently turned a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi into a bloodbath, also killing a Turkish woman. A spokesman for the group had claimed a wounded Turkish soldier was among the special forces that raided the al-Qaeda-affiliated group near the capital Mogadishu. 

While there is no official confirmation from Washington, U.S. press reports show that the raid was carried out by American special forces. It is, however, not improbable that Turkish troops were involved although we will perhaps never know given the nature of such operations.

Turkey too has a personal grudge against al-Shabaab, after all, following the car bomb attack in July against the Turkish Embassy compound in Mogadishu that also killed a Turkish special forces member.
The attack against the Turkish embassy shocked members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who perhaps felt their Islamist credentials provided some kind of cover against this. Adding to the shock of the attack on the embassy building was the fact that Turkey believes it is doing good in Somalia as the country tries to fight poverty and inner turmoil. 

But it seems neither that the government’s Islamist credentials nor Turkish philanthropy is sufficient to guard Turkey against Islamic terrorism. To the contrary, al-Shabaab accused Turkey after the car bomb attack in the Somali capital in July of being an enemy of the Islamic Sharia. 

This is ironic of course for a government that is accused of trying to introduce aspects of the Sharia to Turkey. 

Even the accusation that Turkish soldiers were involved in the raid against al-Shabaab, true or not, shows however that Turkey is in this group’s crosshairs. Turkey is also confronted with the possibility that some regions along its nearly 900-km border with Syria will turn into safe havens for Islamic terrorists. 

There may have been a time when the Erdoğan government turned a blind eye to the activities of groups like al-Nusra, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, because of the headway these were making against Assad’s forces. No doubt there were those in the AKP who also felt sympathy for these groups.

But those days seem to be gone and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu is accusing such groups today of betraying the Syrian people’s quest for democracy. It is clear however that these groups have no interest in the “Syrian people,” being capable of a brutality against them that matches that of Assad’s security forces. Their self-declared intention is to establish an Islamic republic in Syria.

It is likely therefore that these groups will also come around to seeing Turkey as an enemy because of its NATO membership and military alliance with the U.S. No doubt they also noted Prime Minister Erdoğan’s keenness to partake in a U.S.-led operation against Assad. These groups believe such an operation would also target them.

The Erdoğan government has now obtained authorization, against this backdrop, from Parliament to send troops into Syria if necessary. Similar authorization for Iraq is also expected in the coming days. With such authorization Turks increasingly fear that the Turkish army could engage in kinds of combat that it never expected to against radical Islamist elements who have become a national security threat. 

Experience shows that such conflicts can easily turn into quagmires for standing armies and pose major threats to the public with the possibility of indiscriminate terrorism against innocent people. It is not surprising therefore that Turks should be perceiving a new enemy at the gates, and wondering what the government, which once was giving logistic support to Islamic radicals against Assad, is doing to address this threat.