US Knew Turkey Aided al Qaeda but Did Nothing to Stop It

Former US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Riccardione


When Armenian-Americans voiced their anger over Turkey’s role in the incursion into Kessab last spring, US authorities merely expressed “concern” about the well-being of Armenians and Christian minorities. Despite the community’s insistence that Turkey was directly involved in allowing the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra rebels to freely enter Kessab, the US State Department was reticent in fingering its NATO ally.

Fast forward to today when the Obama Administration is leading a fragile coalition against the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria, an off shoot of Al Nusra known as ISIS, and Turkey is, once again, rejecting American access to its airspace in Incirlink and is refusing to join the coalition against the Islamic State.

On Friday, the London-based The Telegraph quoted former US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Riccardione as saying that Turkey has directly supported al Qaeda’s Syrian wing in defiance of the US and has worked with other hard-line al Qaeda affiliates, effectively opening its borders to Syria and allowing free access to those rebels.

Riccardione said that Turkey was attempting to make those hard-line factions more moderate. However, Al Nusra, the group credited for the invasion of Kessab, was the predecessor of ISIS as members of its core group splintered from Al Nusra to create the group that is now at the center of the US campaign.

“We ultimately had no choice but to agree to disagree,” Riccardione was quoted by The Telegraph about the US response to Turkey’s fist-hand involvement with the group.

“The Turks frankly worked with groups for a period, including al Nusra, whom we finally designated as we’re not willing to work with,” Riccardione was quoted in The Telegraph.

Essentially, the US’s response seemed to have been to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s collusion with terrorists, just as Turkey turned a blind eye to the al Qaeda rebels using its border as a transit route to Syria and the ensuing destruction and loss of life in places like Kessab and Aleppo.

While Riccardione’s statements are not the “official” US response, because he left the government when his mission ended in June, his statements paint a clear enough picture to conclude that the US knew about Turkey’s role in al Qaeda’s attack in Kessab and chose to do nothing. In fact, it also went a step further to cover up any suggestion of Turkey’s involvement and lied to its own constituents.

Riccardione’s statements and Turkey’s rejection of US efforts to fight ISIS promoted the Wall Street Journal on Monday to say: “The unavoidable conclusion is that the U.S. needs to find a better regional ally to fight ISIS.”

“The better bet is with the Kurds, who have the most on the line and are willing to provide the boots on the ground that others can’t or won’t,” said the WSJ adding, “Incirlik has been a home for U.S. forces for nearly 60 years, but perhaps it’s time to consider replacing it with a new U.S. air base in Kurdish territory in northern Iraq. America may no longer have friends in Ankara, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have options in the Middle East.”

This is not a “we told you so,” but rather a glimpse into the duplicitous manner in which US foreign policy is being advanced under the Obama Administration in the name of justice and US interests. When ISIS splintered from Al Nusra last summer under the auspices of Turkey, the US did not act and perpetuated its long-standing policy of providing Turkey cover for its murderous policies.

Now that the US finds itself at the center of the crisis in the region and it feels compelled to mount an international campaign against ISIS, these semi-official statements open the door for major news outlets to express outrage and propose alternatives to Turkey, which is now being viewed as a destabilizing force in the region.

One would hope that this will truly become the wake-up call for the US to think long and hard and—in the name of justice and US interests—stop its unconditional support and patronage of Turkey, which probably viewed the US’s non-response as carte blanche to, once again, wreak havoc in that region with impunity.

Meanwhile, the American public, including the Armenian community, must hold the administration accountable for its misleading policy and lies to its constituents.

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