Turkey: Predictably Poor Prospects

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August 17, 2021: Turkish forces in Afghanistan were taken by surprise as the Taliban quickly and unexpectedly replaced the corrupt elected government with a corrupt religious dictatorship. The Taliban apparently accomplished this with a large-scale, nearly simultaneous offer of “gold or lead” (“take a bribe or be killed”) to key army and police commanders. Much of the security forces were already accustomed to taking bribes from the Taliban and drug cartels to step aside and not interfere with the heroin and opium trade. Many of the soldiers and police, especially those who were not Pushtun, left their checkpoints and bases, often taking their weapons with them. The Turkish government is still interested in protecting Afghanistan’s Kabul airport even though they are outnumbered there by the thousands of American troops rushed in to protect the Kabul airport and get foreign troops, diplomats and civilians out safely. Turkey is no longer willing to remain at the airport after all other NATO troops have left.

Turkish efforts to negotiate with the Taliban about reducing violence in Afghanistan have changed to whether or not to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government or support Turkic Afghans who have always resisted the Pushtuns. The Turks have an ethnic affinity for Central Asian Turkic people, including those who represent twelve percent of Afghans. The other major northern groups are Tajiks (27 percent of Afghans) and Hazara (8 percent, Mongol/Persian Shia in central Afghanistan) and Pushtun tribes who don’t always get along with the southern Pushtun who comprise most of the Taliban and drug cartel personnel. The Tajiks opposed Taliban efforts to conquer the entire country during the 1990s and until 2001. Northern neighbor Tajikistan and gave refuge to the current Afghan president who fled Kabul just before the Taliban took over.

The Taliban have also continued hosting al Qaeda groups. The southern Taliban and al Qaeda are mostly Sunni Moslem and notoriously hostile to Shia, who are largely in central and northern Afghanistan as well the Iranian border areas. Earlier this year Iran organized and armed Afghan Shia who feared growing Taliban power. Currently Iran is allowing Afghan refugees to move through Iran and to the Turkish border. The Turks do not want any more illegal migrants, although exceptions are made for Turkic refugees who are not Islamic terrorists.

Despite the Taliban occupation of Kabul, Turkish president Erdogan wants NATO (meaning the U.S.) to treat Turkish military presence in Kabul as a NATO mission and include Turkey in NATO decision making regarding Afghanistan. Pakistan agreed to use its diplomatic influence with the Taliban to aid Turkey’s efforts to secure Kabul’s airport but has not been much help. The Taliban have offered the Turks cooperation or conflict. Turkish media report Turkish military and paramilitary security forces are prepared to stop an expected wave of Afghan refugees fleeing to the West through Iran and central Asia. Then there is China, which has been pressuring Turkey to cooperate with Chinese foreign policy and has already recognized the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan but could use Turkish cooperation to help safeguard Chinese economic investments in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the Turks have no safe options and few positive ones.

August 16, 2021: In Afghanistan a Turkish Airlines flight 324 Turkish citizens. There are still 500 Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan and an undetermined number of Turkish civilians.

August 15, 2021: Taliban leaders told Turkish media that they considered Turkey an ally and want to build stronger political and economic links with Turkey. President Erdogan sent word to the Taliban four days ago that we wanted to meet with the Taliban leader. Meanwhile Turkey advised Turks in Afghanistan to contact the Turkish embassy in Kabul if they want to be evacuated.

August 14, 2021: Recent voter surveys show that president Erdogan’s parliament supporters would receive a third of the vote if nationwide elections were held now. The last such election was in 2018 and the pro-Erdogan parliament members received 42 percent of the vote and he had to gain the support of other parties to obtain a majority. In 2021 those smaller coalition partners received insufficient votes to gain seats in the 600-member parliament as a party. There is a separate election for president and in 2018 Erdogan won with 52 percent of the vote. Individual members of parliament are more difficult to organize to form a coalition government. The next general election is in 2023 and Erdogan cannot run because of term limits. He has not yet found a suitable (winning) candidate for his once dominant AKP party to back. Erdogan has to reverse his decline in voter support or face losing power in parliament and dealing with a hostile president.

August 13, 2021: American soldiers and marines arrived at Kabul airport and now outnumber the Turkish troops there.

August 12, 2021: Turkish riot police arrested around 80 people in the capital (Ankara) after a crowd of Syrian refugees attacked businesses. Turkey currently hosts an estimated four million refugees. Most of the refugees are from Syria.

August 9, 2021: Turkey and Ukraine confirmed the nations will “co-produce” two Turkish Ada-class corvettes. The deal is worth about $240 million. Ada-class vessels are 100 meters in length and can carry two helicopters. In late July Turkey delivered the first Bayraktar TB2 UAVs to the Ukrainian Navy. Earlier in the year Turkey had delivered TB2 for the Ukrainian army.

August 8, 2021: Turkish government claimed its UAV filmed Greece security forces leaving illegal migrants to die on deserted islands in the Mediterranean. The report specifically mentioned the island of Basak. After Turkey discovered a Greek coast guard vessel dropping off the migrants, a Turkish vessel rescued the migrants. The UAVs were deployed to monitor fires along Turkey’s southern coast.

August 7, 2021: Turkey reaffirmed its commitment to operate and defend Kabul’s airport after NATO troops withdrew in September. However, Turkey wants the U.S. to pay for the operation, which it estimates will cost $130 million a year.

August 6, 2021: Turkey’s military and paramilitary security forces claimed they have neutralized (arrested) or eliminated (killed) 18,313 terrorists since July 2015. This includes Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatist rebels killed in Turkey and northern Iraq.

Turkey has pledged another $30 million in foreign aid for Somalia, to be paid out at the rate of $2.5 million a month. Since 2015 Turkey has contributed nearly $120 million to Somalia as well as providing military trainers who created a commando force that the current Somali president used to forcibly remain in power after his term of office ended in February. The presidential elections were supposed to be held in late 2020 but have been delayed several times.

August 4, 2021: Turkey called the U.S. irresponsible after Washington announced it would accept more Afghan refugees but the process of accepting refugees would “take several months” and involve third country participation. The Turkish rebuke followed an American statement that suggested Turkey would serve as an interim destination for refugees. The Americans indicated it would 12 to 14 months screen these refugees. Turkey insisted it would not serve as a “third country.” At the moment an estimated 1,500 Afghan refugees have illegally entered eastern Turkey.

August 3, 2021: Several major wildfires have broken out in Turkey and Greece. An estimated 5,000 Turkish firemen have been assigned to battle an estimated 200 fires that are burning in 47 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Fires in Mugla province have forced an estimated 10,000 people to evacuate their homes.

July 28, 2021: Turkey’s Bayraktar manufacturing company announced plans to build a supersonic stealthy unmanned combat aircraft. The airplane will have a maximum payload of 1.5 tons. The drone will be able to take off without catapult assistance. The company’s Combat Unmanned Aircraft System (MIUS) will have its first test flight in 2023.

July 22, 2021: Turkish military leaders said they are planning to take over security operations at Kabul’s international airport after the U.S. completely withdraws from Afghanistan. Turkey currently has between 500 and 600 soldiers in Afghanistan where they are training Afghan security forces, meaning they have a non-combat NATO mission. Some Turkish troops are serving at the international airport. The airport is about 60 kilometers south of Kabul. Turkey has also offered to train Afghan special operations troops in Turkey.

The Pakistani-backed Taliban responded that they consider Turkish troops remaining in Afghanistan a hostile act. Taliban threatened to attack Turkish troops as “foreign invaders” even though they are Moslem. The Turks ignored the Taliban threat, which was the worst possible answer for the Taliban. While the Turks are on good terms with Pakistan, they do not play well with Islamic terrorists who attack them. Moreover, the Turks are coming to Afghanistan in order to improve relations with NATO, not the Taliban. Back in Turkey domestic critics maintain President Erdogan is overestimating Turkey’s ability to provide security. Critics claim Erdogan is using foreign wars to hide his domestic failures, to include a flagging economy.

July 21, 2021: Turkey’s decision to reopen part of Cyprus’ coastline has drawn a condemnation from the UN Security Council. In November 2020 Turkish Cypriots unilaterally decided to let the city of Varosha (northeastern Cyprus) open its beach to visitors. The UN contends this violates UN Security Council Resolutions 550 and 789 which say decisions regarding Varosha must be made and approved by the UN. This month the Turkish government announced it would allow people to reclaim their property in the beach front area. Greek Cypriots claim Turkey intends to take total control of the Turkish Cypriot enclave and ultimately claim the area as Turkish territory.

July 20, 2021: President Erdogan said Turkey will directly discuss with the Taliban Turkey’s proposal to operate and secure Kabul’s international airport. Erdogan indicated he believes the Taliban is “more comfortable” with Turkey than it is with the U.S. At the moment around 75,000 NATO troops remain in Afghanistan.

July 18, 2021: Russia and Turkey are supposed to have secretly agreed to withdraw their forces from Libya in return for some kind of mutual economic benefits. This is unlikely but rumors like this are believed by many factions in Libya and are a reason why the civil war has been going on for a decade. Meanwhile the Turkey backed GNU faction prime minister insists that the December 24 national elections will take place despite a growing list of obstacles.

July 17, 2021: According to official statistics, Turkey’s armed UAV-assisted operations in Syria destroyed two jets, two UAVs, eight helicopters, 135 tanks and 10 air defense systems. They have also killed or wounded nearly 2,600 personnel. In the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Turkish UAV-assisted operations destroyed 190 Armenian tanks, 100 APCs (armored personnel carriers) and killed 4,000 troops.

 

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