By Steven R. Maher
There is a famous saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Like Syria earlier this decade, Turkey is finding out the hard way that the enemy of their enemy can quickly turn into their enemy.
The United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Shortly thereafter, foreign fighters began to flood the country.
“Senior Iraqi intelligence officers believe an Islamic militant group which has claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Irbil and a spate of deadly attacks in Baghdad, Falluja and Mosul is receiving significant help from Syria and Iran,” the Guardian, a respected British newspaper, reported on February 19, 2004. The Guardian recounted that Iraqi insurgents were “given shelter by Syrian and Iranian security agencies and have been able to enter Iraq with ease” and were “suspected of training suicide bombers and deploying them against US forces in Iraq and Iraqis considered to be collaborating with the US-led authorities.”
At the time, Syrian President Bashir al-Assad was backing the Iraqi insurgents to drive the United States out of the Middle East. When the Arab spring unfolded in 2011, the Jihadists began using Turkey as an infiltration route to unseat Assad. Their efforts were made easier by the knowledge – and the networks set up – to use Syria to infiltrate Iraq.
Turkey’s Prime Minister wanted to see Assad toppled. As the Wall Street Journal reported on September 4, 2014, Turkey allowed the setting up of a “jihadist highway” that “let foreign militants slip across its border into Syria.” ISIS terrorists were allowed to use Turkey’s territory to rest, recuperate, and launch attacks against Syrian forces.
The chickens came to roost with this week’s bloody suicide bombing on Turkey’s main airport, the same airport used by foreign Jihadists to enter Turkey on their way to fight in Syria.
One lesson to be learned from this is the danger of “blowback.” This was a term America became familiar with after 9/11, when it was used to describe the U.S. supplying arms to Afghans fighting the Soviet Union, who then created Al-Qaeda to war against the U.S. The Syrians saw their country destroyed by the blowback of their government’s support of terrorists to attack U.S. forces in Syria, and Turkey is now facing a very bloody blowback from their government’s decision to set up the “Jihadist highway.”
Another lesson to be learned is that the United States cannot put boots on the ground in the Middle East and engage in direct combat with ISIS.
That will only inflame the Middle East further, unite warring Jihadist factions against the U.S., and motivate some of America’s enemies to befriend each other. The U.S. should stick to its current strategy of using Special Forces, drones and air power to degrade ISIS.