Turkey denies links to kidnapping of US-trained fighters

Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly denies any involvement in kidnapping of US-Turkish trained opposition fighters by Al Qaeda affiliated group Nusra Front in northern Syrian district of Azez

Photo by: AJT
Photo by: AJT

Turkish Foreign Ministry has strongly denied accusations of involvement in the kidnapping of US-Turkish trained opposition fighters by the Al Qaeda's Syrian affliate Nusra Front in northern Syrian district of Azaz on July 29.

American news website McClatchy has claimed that Turkish Intelligence Organisation (MIT) “orchestrated” abduction of some members belonging to the US-Turkish “train-equip” programme in a report released on Aug. 24.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said, “It is completely a flight of fantasy of the report published by a foreign media outlet claiming Turkey’s involvement in the incident of kidnapping the first graduates of the 'Train-Equip' programme by a terrorist group when they were returning to Syria,” replying a question in a press conference on Aug. 26.

“Claiming that Turkey has relations with the groups it declared as terrorist is a deliberate and nefarious denigration,” he added.

The report has said that it has “multiple rebel sources” supporting the claims.  

US Defense Department spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis also said that the US military did not see any “indications that Turkish officials alerted the Nusra Front to the movements” of the members of the first “train-equip” programme.

“Turkey is a NATO ally, close friend of the United States and an important partner in the international coalition against ISIS," he added in an email to the McClatchy which has reported on the alleged Turkish involvement.

The captured fighters including their Turkmen leader, Nadim al Hasan, have been part of the "Division 30." The division has fallen apart inside Syrian territory after they entered the country on July 12 through the Turkish Oncupinar border crossing of Kilis which is located across Azez in the province of Aleppo.

The US military had trained the first group composing of 54 fighters from Syrian opposition groups for 74 days in Turkey, Al Jazeera Turk previously reported.

Nusra’s capture of the fighters drew attention to the fact that the training programme might not have a solid fighter base to defeat ISIS on the ground in Syria and could not be powerful enough to help moderate opposition forces defend communities against the group.

The US military launched the programme in May, which aimed at training up to 5,400 fighters a year to combat ISIS, but with many candidates deemed ineligible and others dropping out, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter previously stated that it has fallen far behind plans.

However, media reports recently stated that US-Turkish “train-equip” programme has prepared to send a second group recruited from Syrian opposition groups in the country in order to speed up the fight against ISIS after Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front has abducted some members of the first group.

Reuters previously reported an anonymous diplomatic source saying that, “Although there has been some scepticism about it, it is far too early to write off this program. Massive resources have been invested in this to make it work and we think it will work in the end.”

US and British military instructors are continuing to train the second group in Turkey. They will be sent to Syria when the programme has completed in a few weeks, the report added.

Reuters report also stated referring to its source that US-led coalition forces aim to deploy a total of 1,000 fighters to Syria by the end of 2015.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently stated that the US and Turkey ended its talks on Sunday regarding the plans to establish an ISIS-free zone in northern Syria, speaking in a Reuters interview on Monday.

He said, “The technical talks have been concluded and soon we will start this operation, comprehensive operations, against Daesh [ISIS].” 



TRTWorld and agencies