My interview with journalist Paul Iddon for Ahval.
Q: Do you know roughly how much of Idlib HTS now control since the Turkish-backed militiamen lost ground to them earlier this month?
A: Idlib is completely under HTS’ control, jointly with Turkey. This does not come out of the nothing. Turkey is emulating the Russian model in Assad’s areas and the U.S.’ model applied in the Eastern part of Euphrates. It gave dominance to what its opponents consider as a terrorist group [Qaeda or HTS], while it doesn’t. Turkey does not consider Qaeda a terrorist group and has deployed its Turkish army within the Idlib enclave to render it unattackable as neither Iran nor Russia would venture a war with a “NATO” Turkey. However it did it subtly smart, by using the U.S. and E.U. to support it, although Qaeda is a threat for both.
Under Turkey’s umbrella, the Qaeda cancer has two aims: 1) At Turkey’s convenience, Qaeda would create a threat for Russia’s Latakia and Tartous bases, 2) And at Turkey’s convenience, Qaeda to be used against US and SDF either as Qaeda, HTS or other rebrands.
In my opinion, Qaeda will remain there for a long time, because Russia and Turkey will not be able to agree, and this is why Turkey needs US’ and NATO’s support to be able to apply pressure on Russia in Idlib.
The moment it withdraws its Turkish Army from Idlib, would mean that Turkey struck a deal with Russia, and this automatically would greenlight an attack on HTS.
However, in Afrin the situation is different. Turkey made sure that Afrin is directly under its control, and has installed its own Islamist proxies inside Afrin, so that it can keep HTS in check and build a belt around the HTS enclave on the one side, and to distance itself from HTS’ methods and portray itself as the “solution” on the other hand.
PS: By no means is my comparison of Turkey’s model emulating the US’ or Russia’s model a confirmation that SDF are a terrorist group. At the contrary, while Russia’s proxy Hezbollah and Turkey’s proxy Qaeda are in reality Islamist terrorist groups with expansionist aims to create an Imamah or a Caliphate, the YPG and SDF do not have expansionist aims, not even to create a Kurdistan. The PYD distanced itself from a Kurdistan, but stressed on equal rights. Furthermore, you can identify a group’s features according to the values of its host: While the U.S. preserves secular democratic values, Turkey and Iran are Islamist states, and Russia a dictatorship.
Q: Also, how accurate were McGurk’s allegations on CNN that all Turkish border posts are controlled by HTS and that Ankara has close ties to HTS and such movements?
A: US special envoy McGurk’s statements whether to CNN or other media are accurate, as they are based on deep knowledge of the area, its dynamics and intel reports.
Many, including me, have exposed the ties between Qaeda alias Jabhat Al Nusra (later HTS) and Turkey. Beside what I previously mentioned under the first question, alone the logic asks: How does a terror organization survive for years without the help from a state – a bordering state?
Can the Turkish, Syrian, Iranian, and Russian governments answer this question? Of course, their officials will be embarrassed, because it is clear that there is a state’s greenlight allowing the terrorist organization HTS to survive in an enclave, which can’t breath except with the help its patron and the collaborating surrounding states at its borders. In this case HTS’ sponsor is Turkey, and the collaborators are Russia, Iran and Assad, which are appeasing Turkey for diverse reasons.
Last week, HTS’ Commander Al-Joulani pledged his allegiance again to Turkey and supported Turkey’s invasion of SDF’s areas. Joulani stated that: “The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is an enemy of the revolution, has occupied areas in which a large number of Sunni Arabs live, they are our tribes, their sons fight with us, and we find it an urgency to remove this party, thus we endorse liberating these areas in the East of Euphrates.”
So to answer your question: Yes, HTS and Turkey definitely enjoy more than deep and good ties, Qaeda is Turkey’s raison d’etre.
Regarding the border crossings: To access Idlib, which is the HTS enclave, the border crossings are controlled by HTS and the colluding state at its borders: Turkey and Assad. Border crossings are epitome of wealth as they process revenues in billions of dollars.
The Bab Al Hawa crossing, which is controlled by HTS, is also used for human trafficking as well as to smuggle weapons, drugs, money laundry, and for products’ imports. HTS even imports daily Iranian products, thus violating US sanctions. Another piece of evidence that the quartett Russia-Syrian regime-Turkey-Iran are collaborating with the terrorist organization HTS alias Qaeda.
Also the Idlib border crossing to Assad’s areas were not shut down and are controlled by Assad on Assad’s side, and HTS on the supposedly “Turkish” side of Idlib.
The border crossings between Russia’s controlled areas (Assad regime) and Turkey’s controlled areas (Qaeda alisa HTS) are Abu Al-Duhur crossing, the strategic Morek crossing and Qalaat Al-Mudiq are controlled by SAA in Assad’s areas, and by HTS in Turkey’s areas. Noteworthy is that Assad imposed royalties on opposition vehicles.
Q: Regarding the Turkish Army’s observation posts around Idlib, do you know if the areas around them are now controlled by HTS? Is there some kind of unspoken agreement, or more, between Ankara and the movement to prevent them from clashing? It’s my understanding that when they were establishing these posts back in Oct. 2017 that HTS escorted Turkish troops to their positions. Do you think they still have some kind of arrangement in place going back to that time?
A: As elaborated in question 1, Turkey is Qaeda’s (HTS) sponsor, with the blessing of Russia. The observation posts around Idlib are controlled jointly by Turkey and HTS.