Turkey facilitations hub for ISIS, lets Islamist rebels run wild

The U.S. State Department claimed in a new watchdog report on Tuesday that Turkey is letting hardline Islamist militias in Syria run wild and commit war crimes with impunity, the National Interest reported.

The report also said that Turkey continues to be a regional transit hub for the Islamic State (ISIS), although Ankara has recently stepped up efforts to counter attempts to smuggle ISIS fighters and weaponry into war-torn Syria.

The report said U.S. European Command had called Turkey a “major facilitation hub” for ISIS and that security at the its southern borders with Syria and Iraq continues to be a problem, according to Stars and Stripes website.

Turkey has handed over large territories in Syria to a rebel coalition called the “Syrian Interim Government,” as part of Ankara’s military campaign against Kurdish-led forces.

Some of these rebel groups have been accused of war crimes, including the murder of Syrian Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf and the mass kidnapping of Syrian women but Turkey is not holding war criminals accountable, according to the report.

The state department reportedly said it has “no evidence that the Syrian Interim Government has consistently arrested, prosecuted, or otherwise held accountable any [Turkish-backed Syrian opposition] members implicated in human rights abuses or violations of the law of armed conflict”.

The Syrian Interim Government has so far only imprisoned a single 19-year-old fighter, according to report.

The latest findings contradict a State Department report in March 2020 that said the Syrian Interim Government has tried, convicted, and sentenced perpetrators of war crimes.

In the latest report, State Department officials also told investigators that they were “concerned” with reports of human rights abuses in Afrin, a Kurdish-majority enclave that has been occupied by Turkish forces since 2018.

The officials mentioned that Syrian rebel groups in Afrin have been accused of looting homes and archaeological sites, destroying Yazidi religious shrines, and kidnapping women for ransom.

At least 161 women have disappeared in Afrin since the Turkish occupation began, including 44 who were reported kidnapped this year, according to data collected by the Missing Afrin Women Project. Six were members of the Yazidi religious minority.

State Department officials “raised the issue [of war crimes] with officials at high levels of the Turkish government,” according to the Tuesday report, and Turkish officials responded that they are taking the issue “seriously.”