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Turkey Denies Warning Al-Qaeda Groups of U.S. Fighters in Syria

The Turkish government quickly denied a report that stated authorities provided information to al-Qaeda group Nusra Front about U.S.-trained Syrian fighters. The al-Qaeda members kidnapped the fighters as soon as they crossed into Syria.

“We regard the claims as part of a defamation campaign against Turkey,” stated Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s office. “In the past, we have repeatedly stated that the government of Turkey designates and treats al Nusra Front as a terrorist organization. There has been absolutely no change in our policy toward the organization.”

The office also stressed that “[T]he idea that Turkey, a key supporter of the Train and Equip Program [T&E], would seek to undermine its own interest in Syria is ludicrous.”

Militants kidnapped a commander and 20 fighters on July 29 when they entered Syria to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). The Obama administration spent over $500 million on the T&E program, which included fighters from Jordan, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told the media no one saw any “indications that Turkish officials alerted the Nusra Front to their movements.” Yet, one officer with the Division 30, a rebel group that trained the T&E fighters, said that “[O]nly the Americans and Turks knew” about the plans.

“We have sources who tell us the Turks warned Nusra that they would be targeted by this group,” continued the officer.

The Turkish government hesitated the past year to join the fight against ISIS, even though they share a border with Syria. They sided with the rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the civil war started four years ago. Media reports have on multiple occasions tied Turkey to the radical Islamic group.

But that all changed after a suicide bomber murdered 32 people and injured 100 in Suruç at “a cultural centre hosting anti-Islamic State activists.” Those at the event were about to head to Kobane, a strategic Kurdish town recently recaptured by Kurdish forces. Suruç is directly across the border from Kobane.

In July, Turkey agreed to allow the U.S. military to use an airbase to strike ISIS in Syria. The agreement means the U.S. military will use the Incirlik Air Base, but no one will use Turkish aircraft in the strikes. The air base already houses six U.S. Predator drones. Turkish media reports at least two “will be armed with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles.”

The government announced an airstrike campaign in Syria and gave America permission to use the Incirlik Air Base to strike ISIS in Syria. However, Turkey decided to also bomb the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), “a Marxist-Lenin terrorist group the Turkish government has vowed to eradicate along with ISIS.” While the Syrian Kurdish military allied itself with PKK, the Iraqi Kurds do not get along with PKK. The rivalry between PKK and Barzani’s Kudistan Democratic Party (KDP) traces back to the Iraqi Kurdish civil war in the 1990s.

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