The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-allied coalition of mostly Kurdish fighters, blamed Turkey on Sunday for delaying a five-month-long operation to capture Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State.
President Donald Trump announced al-Baghdadi’s death on Sunday. The “caliph” of the former Islamic State reportedly ran into a dead-end tunnel when confronted by U.S. forces and detonated a suicide bomb, killing himself and three of his young children. Only one U.S. force member, a canine officer, was reportedly injured in the operation.
President Trump thanked Kurdish forces – along with Russia and Turkey – for aiding the operation. Russia denied that the operation ever occurred while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted credit for the role Turkey played, which remains undefined.
The SDF clarified on Sunday that Turkey’s role in the operation was to repeatedly delay it, buying al-Baghdadi time.
“As a result of the accurate and delicate joint work of more than 5 months between the military intelligence of the Syrian Democratic Forces (Ewlekarî) and the American forces, and in coordination at the highest levels, the head of the Islamic State terrorist organization, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was eliminated in a joint operation today,” the SDF confirmed on Sunday.
“We note in the Syrian Democratic Forces that this operation was delayed for more than a month due to the Turkish aggression on our region,” the SDF statement continued, “and we consider the operation as a revenge for the massacres committed by the terrorist organization in Kobani, Shankal, AL Khabour Basin, Nineveh Plain, Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Makhmour and revenge for the Kurdish Yezidi women in particular, and a revenge for humanity and the victims They fell as a result of ISIS crimes worldwide.”
ISIS was responsible for an attempted genocide against, among others, the Yezidi (or Yazidi) people of Iraq, who jihadists consider “devil worshippers” for their unique, ancient monotheistic religion. Jihadists interpret their worship of Melek Taus – the Peacock Angel, who they believe came to earth as its ruler – as the worship of Lucifer, the fallen angel of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim tradition. The Islamic State used sex slavery and rape as a weapon of war with particular vigor against the Yezidis, forcing many women and girls to choose between their half-Muslim children, the product of jihadist rape, or their communities, many of which rejected the children of ISIS jihadists.
The SDF specified that al-Baghdadi and other senior ISIS leaders had been moving for months within areas of Syria “under the military control of the Turkish state,” accusing Ankara of abetting ISIS terrorists.
“We warn the world of the danger that jihadi factions with the Turkish army may enter the Sari Kaneh and Tel Abyad areas, which provide a fertile environment for ISIS production, which poses a threat to the region and the international community as a whole,” the SDF continued. “We have already indicated that ISIS and its leaders have moved to areas controlled by the Turkish army and his affiliates in Idlib, Afrin and the so-called ‘Euphrates Shield’ areas, and the recent operation that led to the killing of al-Baghdadi, is tangible evidence of the authenticity of our information.”
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali added on Twitter Sunday that, in the eyes of the Kurdish forces, a correlation existed between Turkey’s campaign to push the Kurds away from the Turkish border while failing to identify and eradicate ISIS terrorists present near the same border.
Turkey which did not see presence of ISIS head #Baghdadi and ISIS spox. literally a few kilometers from its border as a security threat is demanding the forces who fought ISIS to move 32 km.s away from the border since they constitute a security threat. What does it tell?
— Mustafa Bali (@mustefabali) October 27, 2019
Turkey has suffered numerous, significant Islamic State attacks. ISIS terrorists committed suicide bombings at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport in 2016 and ended that year with a New Year’s Eve massacre at the Reina nightclub in the same city, applauding the “heroic soldier of the caliphate” responsible. Despite this, as recently as this August, Middle Eastern defense officials whispered of mounting evidence that Erdogan’s Islamist government was harboring Islamic State jihadists, partly by attacking the Kurdish forces largely responsible for their demise, and partly recruiting local jihadists and emboldening to attack the Kurds.
Turkey is openly cooperating with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a coalition of militiamen formed to fight Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, in “Operation Peace Spring,” its campaign to eradicate Kurds from Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava). After two weeks of official fighting, the Turks announced an indefinite end to the campaign via ceasefire, a deal brokered by Washington and Moscow.
The FSA contained elements of the former Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda organization. Kurdish forces have compared FSA behavior to that of the Islamic State, particularly in the celebrating and mutilating of dead Kurdish soldiers.
“Turkey has been hosting ISIS for years,” Can Dündar, an exiled Turkish journalist prosecuted after his newspaper, Cumhuriyet, revealed Erdogan’s cooperation with Syrian jihadists, said last week. “Everyone knows it in the region.”
Dündar was editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet when the newspaper published evidence of Turkey military equipment crossing the border into Syria, destined for jihadists fighting Assad. Turkey was “hosting them [ISIS] in different cities, ISIS headquarters,” Dündar accused this week.
Cumhuriyet later revealed evidence that Turkish military officers were in direct contact with senior Islamic State terrorists to coordinate opening the border to allow foreign jihadists to enter Turkey and join the ISIS fray.
Pro-Erdogan Turkish media – largely the only media legally allowed in the country since the 2016 failed coup, with the exception of Cumhuriyet – have for years argued that the Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State were a greater terrorist threat than ISIS itself.
President Trump announced Sunday morning that al-Baghdadi died as a result of detonating a suicide bombing this weekend.
“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said in his address, noting that only “a beautiful dog, a talented dog” was injured in the operation to capture him. Al-Baghdadi reportedly killed three of his children by detonating his bomb close to them.
“He had dragged three of his young children with him. They were led to certain death. He reached the end of the tunnel, as our dogs chased them down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children,” Trump said.
Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq for cooperating with the U.S. operation, and gave a special thank you to the “Syrian Kurds for certain support they were able to give to us.”
Erdogan said Turkey “welcomes” al-Baghdadi’s death, vowing, “Turkey will continue to support anti-terror efforts — as it has done in the past.” Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin claimed that Turkish forces were “in contact” with the United States and “coordinated,” but did not specify what Turkey did to help the operation against al-Baghdadi.