The Pentagon rejected the evidence of Russia against Turkey’s alleged involvement with the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) as the largest buyer of the terrorist groups’ smuggled oil exports.
Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting against ISIL, said, “Let me be very clear that we flatly reject any notion that the Turks are somehow working with ISIL. That is preposterous and kind of ridiculous. We absolutely, flatly reject that notion.”
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Colonel Warren made a statement in response to questions regarding the evidence presented by the Defense Ministry of Russia against Turkey. The evidence included satellite photos and maps indicating that Turkey is helping ISIL in smuggling oil.
Turkey is a “great partner” in the fight against ISIL
Turkey is a “great partner” in the fight against the terrorist group. He said the Turks “are hosting our aircraft, conducting strikes, and supporting the moderate Syrian opposition,” said Colonel Warren during the weekly Pentagon briefing from the headquarters of Operation Inherent Resolve in Baghdad.
“They’ve been good partners here. Any thought that the Turks, that the Turkish government is somehow working with ISIL is just preposterous and completely untrue, he added.
Colonel Warren also stated that oil smuggling has been a problem in the region for decades, and the United States is working on stopping it by asking Turkey to intensify its border controls.
Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department shared the same opinion that Russia’s proof against Turkey was not true, although he acknowledged that he did not see the photos. He repeated Colonel Warren’s explanation that the oil smuggling operation was a decades-old issue. According to him, ISIL is not making direct profit from the smuggled oil, but through the extortion of toll fees from the smugglers.
Russia started targeting convoys of fuel tankers transporting smuggled oil from Syria to Iraq, which it calls the “living pipeline”—one of the main sources of terrorist funding. The Russian Air Force destroyed at least 500 fuel tankers in November.
Tension between Russia and Turkey increases
The relationship between the two countries deteriorated after the Turkish military shot down a Russian plane near the Syrian border on November 25. Turkey claimed that the Russian plane violated its airspace and ignored its repeated warnings. Russia argued its plane was operating in the Syrian airspace.
The Russian government imposed economic sanctions against the Turkish government following the incident. The Russian Air Force recently armed its Su-34 jets with short and medium-range air-to-air missiles for defensive purposes in its mission to Syria. The missiles have “target-seeking devices” with the ability to hit targets at a distance of up to 60 kilometers.
Turkish Prime Minster Ahmet Davutoglu recently stated that his government will not apologize to Russia for the downing of the Su-24 fighter jet. He pointed out that Turkey’s action was “defensive,” and his government has no intention to escalate the situation.
“Protection of our airspace, the land border is not only a right but a duty to my government and no Turkish Prime Minister or President or authority will apologize [for] doing our duty,” said Prime Minister Davutoglu.
Previous statements from US officials about Turkey
Yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee that most of the operations of the Turkism military were directed against the Kurds instead of the ISIL.
Secretary Carter said, “Most of their air operations are not directed at ISIL. They are directed at the PKK, which we understand their concern about — it’s a terrorist organization within their borders — but we would like to see them do more against ISIL.”
Vice President Joe Biden previously suggested that the allies of the United States in the Middle East including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were very eager to overthrow the Syrian government and noted that they are spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” and providing tens of thousands of weapons to the opposition fighters including jihadists that became ISIL.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was outraged by Vice Pres. Biden’s statement and demanded an apology. Biden apologized for any implications that Turkey or other allies in the region intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria.