Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara made important remarks regarding "national security" of both countries in the farewell lunch given to him by Turkey's Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) in Istanbul on June 5m the Hürriyet Daily News reported.
Mentioning the need of working together, Ricciardone listed the area's need the cooperation of both countries as Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran in the context of nuclear program, are seeking a lasting solution for Cyprus and the normalization in Turkish-Israeli relations for "peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean".
Then he said the work on those fields is carried out with the means of "diplomacy, law enforcement [for example Turkey's borders], intelligence and security."
Then came the important sentence. The ambassador underlined that they "would not give details on intelligence" matters, but "important national security cooperation" was "going on."
Ricciardone indeed did not give any further detail.
But all indications on the Turkish and American sides show both countries have started a new and extensive security/intelligence cooperation regarding Syria and especially the "foreign fighters" problem sourcing from the three-year-old civil war in the country.
Right after U.S. President Barack Obama's speech at the West Point Military Academy on May 28, in which he pledged to "ramp up support" to opposition groups in Syria, the Tayyip Erdoğan government in Turkey announced on June 3 that al-Nusra was included in the "terrorist organizations" list of Turkey.
This was something the U.S. and a number of NATO governments have been asking from Turkey since al-Nusra declared in 2013 that it was the al-Qaeda in Syria. So with those two developments, the U.S. has agreed to get involved with the Syrian civil war (some speculate in order to hurt Russia more because of its Crimean "gambit" in Ukraine) in military and intelligence terms short of sending troops there and Turkey adopted a new Syrian line parallel with the U.S., and generally the West.
One might expect the level of cooperation, which seems to have started a few months ago, possibly before the March 30 local elections in Turkey, might step up following the U.S. and Turkey to find a common ground regarding Syria after three years of disagreements behind closed doors.
The cooperation indeed involves the "national security" of both countries, because it focuses on the "foreign fighters" in Syria problem. According to intelligence estimates, there are around 8,000 passport holders of American and European countries since the beginning of the civil war who travelled to Syria to fight among Jihadist organizations, mostly al-Nusra there. They mostly travel through Turkey (and a bit through Jordan) since Turkey does not ask for visas from American and European countries. Those passport holders from Western countries (some of North African, Arab origin, some Western looking Balkan and North Caucasus origin and some native converts to Islam) come to Turkey, mostly Istanbul as tourists, find their way to some point of the 910km-long Turkish border with Syria, cross the border illegally, or legally, again posing as tourists, trained and fight there, and some of those who are not killed in the fight, travel back to their countries as tourists from abroad, again mostly through Turkey, according to findings from the security sources. Now there are estimated hundreds of such fighters who returned to their lands. And the Boston bombings of 2013 showed what can two brothers without proven organizational links have done; it is not difficult to imagine what mostly al-Qaeda trained dedicated people can do.
And those fighters are not only from the U.S. They can be from France, Britain, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, even Norway; we are talking about national security concerns of many countries here, not only of the U.S. and Turkey. So the ongoing security operation is likely to involve intelligence and security services of a number of countries, besides the American CIA and Turkish MİT and it is likely to be one of the most extensive anti-terrorism cooperation measures in recent times.
The details are not clear yet, but Istanbul is likely to be a major hub for the security cooperation.
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