‘Turkey cooperates best with UK and US on foreign fighters’

‘Turkey cooperates best with UK and US on foreign fighters’

This column’s title does not reflect the writer’s opinion but that of Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Speaking at a press conference in Ankara on Jan. 3, Çavuşoğlu singled out the U.S. and the U.K. as the countries with which Turkey cooperates best in terms of intelligence sharing on foreign fighters who want to use Turkish territories when entering or exiting Syria.

Many other continental European countries, however, have failed to see the risk and therefore have failed to cooperate with Turkey, according to Çavuşoğlu. “Later on they realized the seriousness of the issue,” he said, referring to the many foreign fighters deported from Turkey who have later been released only to commit serious crimes in their home countries.

Foreign fighters have become one of the most serious consequences of the Syrian conflict, especially since 2012, the year so many bloody jihadist terror organizations took advantage of turmoil in the broken state. Tens of thousands of terrorists from regional countries as well as from European countries have joined more than a dozen different jihadist organizations over the years, storming both Iraq and Syria.

Now that the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is coming to an end, and many European foreign fighters are aiming to leave Syria to return to their homelands, Turkey and European nations need to step up their cooperation on anti-terror operations to arrest them.

According to Çavuşoğlu, Turkey arrested and deported foreign fighters from around 125 countries, a figure that reveals the truly global nature of the problem. Around 1,500 terrorists who fought in Syria have been arrested and are still in prison, Çavuşoğlu said, criticizing the reluctance of European countries to co-operate on the issue.

Although these countries are reluctant to cooperate with Turkey, one way or another these foreign fighters will return to their homeland, underlining the need for more collaboration to avoid undesirable incidents in the future, the minister said.

In an interview with the French media before his visit to Paris on Jan. 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed Turkey’s readiness to intensify cooperation with countries to crack down on foreign fighters who have used Turkey as a route to Syria.

He also said the number of deported foreign fighters has exceeded 5,600 and that 54,000 people have been banned from entering Turkey. These figures alone are enough to convey the seriousness of the issue even after the collapse of the ISIL and other jihadist terror organizations in Syria.

One top issue Erdoğan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron are expected to discuss is how best to cooperate vis-a-vis foreign fighters and how to stop them from posing a serious threat to Turkey, France and beyond.

In this respect, it is important for Çavuşoğlu to highlight the value of cooperation with the U.S. and the U.K., and especially with the former, given the poor bilateral ties between Ankara and Washington. Furthermore, it has been a long time since we heard Turkish officials express their appreciation of the U.S.

Senior Turkish officials slammed the former U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, in October 2017, even as Bass highlighted the well-functioning anti-terror cooperation between the two countries.

I recently spoke to a fairly senior U.S. official who stressed the fact that cooperation on intelligence matters between the two sides’ military and foreign ministry authorities was ongoing albeit away from public eyes.

“When the U.S. and Turkey focus on threats today, they do not focus on the Soviet Union (as they did during the cold war years), but on the common threat of terrorism in the region. I think the U.S. and Turkey have continued to operate very energetically against common enemies. Turkey plays a vital role in the coalition against ISIL for example, and the U.S. and Turkey have been very successful partners in that. For us, that is a clear-cut success story,” the official said.

Given the backlog of troubled issues between Turkey and the U.S., hearing from both sides that cooperation on vital issues of mutual interest is forthcoming and that communication channels are open is surely a positive and promising development.

Serkan Demirtaş, hdn,