MESOP NEWS : US intel chief says fighting ISIL is not a priority for Turkey

February 27, 2015, Friday/ 18:11:26/ TODAY’S ZAMAN / ISTANBUL – Turkey does not place a high priority on fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) said us Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in his speech to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. “I think Turkey has other priorities and other interests,” said Clapper, adding that the Turkish government has been more concerned with the Kurdish issue and the country’s economy.

“Public opinion polls show in Turkey they don’t see ISIL as a primary threat,” Clapper said.The intelligence chief said the effect of Turkey’s approach was to allow a permissive climate for foreign recruits heading to Syria to take up arms for the extremist group. “And of course, the consequence of that is a permissive environment…because of their laws and the ability of people to travel through Turkey en route to Syria,” he claimed.Clapper also commented on the flow of foreign fighters from Turkey to Syria. “So somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 percent of those foreign fighters find their way to Syria through Turkey,” he said. Since last summer, a number of US officials have visited Turkey to push the NATO ally to contribute more to the US-led coalition against the extremist group. Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said fighters joining ISIL are not only going to Syria from Western countries, announcing that around 1,000 Turks have joined the extremist group.

“Do not think that those who join ISIL are only coming from Europe, the Americas, Chechnya or Kazakhstan. They are also from places very near to us, [like] Yalova, or other places. I speak as a friend in charge; those young people — whose number we presume to be around 1,000 — have been taken to [Syria or Iraq to join ISIL] through deception,” Arınç said while speaking in Bursa.“When we got the news that they [some ISIL recruits] were killed, [we learned] they were from this or that [Turkish] city,” Arınç continued, calling for the protection of young people from extremist organizations.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had previously expressed concerns that Turkish fighters traveling to Syria to fight alongside radical groups may later launch terrorist attacks in their home countries. Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın, during a news conference on Monday, also said Turkey has already deported 1,400 foreign fighters. Kalın said Turkey cannot deal with the foreign fighters issue alone and claimed that the Syrian government uses ISIL to fight against the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the country.“While Syria attacks the FSA, why does it avoid fighting ISIL?” Kalın added.Turkey has been the target of criticism due to allegedly turning a blind eye to foreign fighters crossing into Syria and Iraq from Turkey to join ISIL. The NATO ally has also been facing a backlash for its reluctance to join the US-led coalition efforts to eliminate ISIL, feeding speculations that this reluctance stems from some Turkish officials being ideologically close to the terrorist group. However, Turkish authorities have strongly condemned the terrorist acts of the ISIL militants and say these actions have nothing to do with Islam.