Dutch government debates alleged Turkish support for former ISIS members in Afrin – K24, Iraqi Kurdistan

Original article by Wladimir van Wilgenburg

Dutch FM Stef Blok.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok on Wednesday said his government would not push for a NATO investigation into Turkey’s possible links to the Islamic State after a report alleged 40 former Islamic State militants were among Turkish-backed forces in Afrin.

“Turkey is and remains an important partner in the fight against ISIS, including as a member of the anti-ISIS coalition. Turkey has been seriously affected by ISIS terrorism and is taking action against this,” Blok stated.

Member of the Party for Freedom (PVV), Raymond de Roon, had asked the Dutch government to clarify whether Turkey had trained, recruited and armed former Islamic State members.

His questions were based on a report by the Rojava Information Centre (RIC) that alleged 40 former Islamic State members had joined Turkish-backed groups in Afrin.

The Dutch Foreign Minister, in a written answer, noted that “evolving dynamics of the battlefield in Syria” meant some fighters could have joined “for pragmatic or financial reasons,” armed groups that “previously were their ideological opponents.”

The government also affirmed it would not question Turkey’s NATO membership.

“Turkey is and remains an important NATO ally in a difficult and restless region. The NATO-membership of Turkey is therefore in the interest of Dutch and European security,” the Minister wrote.

The government also stated it had no information on Islamic State veterans working with Turkish intelligence services.

Turkey itself has claimed it was one of the first countries to recognize the Islamic State as a terrorist organization and join the US-led coalition.

Dutch MP de Roon, however, expressed concerns Turkey could provide these fighters a new safe zone.

On Aug. 7, Washington and Ankara agreed on a new security mechanism designed to address Turkey’s border concerns, working on “safe zone” on the Syrian-Turkish border.

“According to Turkey and the US, only Turkish and US soldiers will be deployed,” the Dutch Foreign Minister noted.

Chloe Troadec, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24 they are happy to see their report “identifying 40 former ISIS members now part of Turkish-backed jihadi forces in Afrin” being discussed at the parliamentary level.

However, she added Mr. Blok’s responses are “left wanting” on several points.

“Firstly, Mr. Blok says that these groups were ISIS’ “ideological opponents”. In reality, groups like Jaysh-al-Islam and Ahrar-al-Sham who now form key components in the Turkish armed, funded and controlled forces occupying Afrin are ideologically indistinguishable from ISIS,” she argued.

She also pointed to a UN report published on Thursday which found these factions were responsible for war crimes and “the imposition of an extremist, violently misogynistic interpretation of sharia law.”

“The Turkish invasion and occupation of Afrin forced the SDF to pause its years-long campaign to eradicate the Islamic State, granting the terror organisation breathing room and likely allowing key members time to escape and regroup.”

She underlined that the leading role of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “against ISIS stands in stark contrast to Turkey’s state sponsorship of jihadist terrorism to suit its own political ends.”

The Dutch are one of the biggest European investors in Turkey. On Sept. 11, there was a joint meeting between the two countries focused on trade.

“For as long as these financially lucrative relationships continue, it is unlikely that the Dutch or any other government will seriously take any action against Turkey’s proven status as the foremost state sponsor of terror in the region,” Troadec concluded.