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Turkey’s Convenient War

The recent carnage in Ankara comes at a good time for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has been demanding that the United States and other NATO allies support him in his war against the Kurds of Syria, who are, incidentally, regarded as allies by Washington in the war against ISIS. The Turks have been bombarding Kurdish positions and staging special ops raids, warning the Kurds against the dangers of becoming too successful in their drive to occupy territory vacated by a retreating ISIS. Erdogan has been fulminating constantly about how the Kurds are all terrorists and therefore the real enemy, along the way insisting angrily that the United States join him in that assessment. “Choose me or the terrorists!” he recently demanded of a U.S. delegation, elaborating that anyone who is a friend of the Kurds will not have a friend in Turkey.

The Turkish president is not only calling for a war against the Kurds. The conflict is already metastasizing into something like a civil war, with The Economistdescribing Turkey’s southeastern region as a “simmering cauldron of violence.” Erdogan has also thrown down the gauntlet against the opposition parties in his own parliament, some of whom he has also described as “terrorists.” Having already hobbled his country’s press, its judiciary, its military and law enforcement and having made it a crime to protest against his policies or “insult” government officials, he is now intent on obtaining for himself near dictatorial powers as president. Erdogan is currently seeking to force through legislation that would grant him the new authority he seeks even though he lacks sufficient votes to do so. His language in dealing with his own countrymen is replete with the usual fabrications, threats and admonishments that have made him a worldwide sensation over the past two years.

As Erdogan passionately wants his war and his mandate, the Ankara bombing comes at a perfect time for him. Which should be suspicious. The Turkish military high command is known to be strongly opposed to any large scale intervention in Syria, but the killing of soldiers by the bombers might be intended to undermine its resistance. Inevitably, a Syrian Kurd of unknown antecedents has been blamed by name for the attack and also linked to Turkey’s own Kurds. Kurdish leaders both in Syria and Turkey deny any knowledge of the incident, though one spokesman conceded that it might have been a rogue attack staged by victims of the recent Turkish crack down on the Kurdish region of the country. A Kurdish splinter group the Kurdish Freedom Hawks (TAK) has taken credit, but it contradicts what Turkey is claiming about the provenance of the attack and might be a ploy intended to enhance the group’s reputation. But to be sure, apart from revenge the Kurds logically would have no motive to provoke an onslaught by the overwhelmingly more powerful Turkish military. Quite the contrary.

The bombing comes on top of Turkey’s dangerous—and suspicious—shoot-down of a Russian warplane, in which the decision to take decisive action against Moscow must surely have come from the top level of the government in Ankara. The Russian plane could not have been construed as being hostile to Turkey and a relatively minor incursion, if it indeed took place, could only explain the incident if there was actually a Turkish plan in place to engage a Russian plane as soon as it could be plausibly claimed that there had been a violation of airspace. Why? Because Russia was demonstrating considerable success in pushing back the rebels which, pari passu, was enabling the Kurds in Syria to expand their area of control. For Erdogan, it always comes down to the Kurds.

One can reasonably argue that Turkey’s present desperation is a direct product of President Erdogan’s miscalculations. He deliberately abandoned efforts to maintain a ceasefire with the Kurds and instead escalated the conflict with them when he began bombarding their positions in Syria in the Summer of 2015. The return to the “Kurds as terrorists” meme was politically motivated, intended to discredit the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which is largely Kurdish, prior to national elections. Erdogan also continued to insist that Bashir al-Assad be removed in Syria, even though that has proven to be an unattainable goal and his decision to bring down a Russian plane was tactically unwise as well as bad news for a struggling Turkish economy.

Given Erdogan’s apparent willingness to take seemingly high risk steps in support of his domestic and foreign agendas, one must inevitably pose the question: “Was this bombing in Ankara a false flag attack carried out by Erdogan to justify a war and give him increased authority, both of which are linked?” Those who discount such a possibility would no doubt argue that no contemporary government leader would conspire to kill his own people under such circumstances. Or would they?

The Turkish people wisely are resistant to military engagement outside their country’s borders so the government of Erdogan has considered desperate expedients to create a casus belli to justify waging its own personal war against the Kurds on Syrian soil. The reality is that Turkey has suffered a number of “terrorist” attacks over the past two years, some of which are certainly suspicious in that they came at a time when the government was fearmongering before elections or seeking popular support for a war in Syria. In each case the attribution to Kurds or ISIS has been somewhat suspect or based solely on assertions made by the Turkish government, seemingly without any independent corroboration. If they were indeed false flag attacks, some steps would likely have been taken to delude the actual bombers or shooters regarding who was actually ordering the attack. Kurdish speaking Turkish intelligence officers could easily and plausibly have represented themselves as Kurds, for example.

Recent attacks inside Turkey that have been credited to ISIS or the Kurds might just as reasonably be credited to the Turkish intelligence service MIT based on the principle of “Cui bono?” or  “who benefits?” One bombing in Ankara last October, attributed alternatively to ISIS and to Kurds, killed 102 and was particularly suspicious coming as it did shortly before elections. It targeted a peace march that included many Kurds, making it a perfect target to sow discord. It was inevitably exploited to increase government pressure on the Kurdish minority and to weaken the opposition HDP. The tactic was, in the event, successful as Erdogan succeeded in reestablishing his parliamentary majority.

Several so-called ISIS attacks directed against Turkish soldiers and policemen have also been used to create the impression to the U.S. and NATO allies that Turkey was actually in the fight against the Islamic State even though it really was not. One complaint made by the Kurds in 2015 was that the Turks were facilitating the movement of ISIS along the border to attack Kurdish positions. The White House, frustrated by the Turkish inaction, was not fooled by the charade but it felt that it was in no position to contradict Erdogan as it needed to be able to use the NATO airbase at Incirlik, which the Turkish president controlled.

But perhaps the most telling, and chilling, incident relating to Erdogan and his intelligence service cronies is something that did not happen. Back in 2014, a secret telephone recording made by police investigating criminal activity by some family members within the government inner circle revealed that the then-prime minister had conspired with his intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to stage a false flag attack on the tomb of Turkish Sultan Suleyman Shah, which for historical reasons is located inside Syria and is guarded by Turkish soldiers. Davutoglu told Fidan “The Prime Minister [Erdogan] said that in current conjuncture, this attack (on the Suleyman Shah Tomb) must be seen as an opportunity for us.” Fidan responded “I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey.” In the event, the attack did not take place but if it had it might have meant killing fellow Turks to create a casus belli that would have justified massive retaliation and direct intervention in Syria.

Would Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan be willing to kill his own soldiers to create an incident that would enable him to advance his own agenda? The answer is apparently yes. Were the bombers in Ankara on February 18somehow instigated or set up by the Turkish intelligence agency MIT? The answer might never be known, but President Obama, in his phone call expressing condolences to Erdogan over the bombing, carefully avoided endorsing Turkish claims that Syrian Kurds had been behind the attack. As the actual perpetrators remain somewhat of a mystery, it would behoove Washington to be very cautious before climbing on to the Turkish bandwagon.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

about the author

Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent twenty years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases. He holds a BA with honors from the University of Chicago and an MA and PhD in Modern History from the University of London. In addition to TAC, where he has been a contributing editor for nine years, he writes regularly for Antiwar.com. He is currently Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest and resides with his wife of 32 years in Virginia horse country close to his daughters and grandchildren. He has begun talking far too much to his English bulldog Dudley of late, thinks of himself as a gourmet cook, and will not drink Chardonnay under any circumstances. He does not tweet, and avoids all social media.

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