Turkish newspaper and U.S. reports on Turkey finally confronting DAESH on the ground in Syria were all fabricated and denied by high-level Turkish officials
News reports in the U.S. this week said that Turkish Special Forces units conducted a military operation on DAESH targets near the Turkish border town of Kilis, which has been struck by Katyusha rockets for the last few weeks, killing and injuring both local Turks and Syrian refugees. The report first appeared in a Turkish newspaper, suggesting Turkey was finally confronting DAESH on the ground in Syria and destroyed three vehicles and three rocket launchers that have been causing the chaos and fear in Kilis.
However, there was a problem with this story. Reliable sources in Ankara immediately called the story "a sham" and refused to provide details. Following the rebuttal by Turkish officials, The Wall Street Journal published another report in which U.S. officials confirmed that Turkey, indeed, struck DAESH positions with its ground forces and informed the anti-DAESH coalition about the operation.
U.S. officials, on the record, avoided to confirm or deny the operation and said that the questions should be addressed to Turkish authorities.
Two high-ranking Turkish officials told me that both the Turkish and U.S. reports were fabricated. One senior source, referencing all the relevant ministries and state agencies, said that I could find no one to confirm that the military operation existed. Of course, if the government is adamant to keep an operation secret, it is no wonder why one would not be able to find anyone to confirm it. Personally, I am not convinced either way whether the operation took place or not.
A second official had a different stance on and more of a focused approach to the American leadership's reckless statements to American media. That was intriguing. He said that even if Turkey did conduct a military operation, the U.S. should not have leaked the details of such a sensitive and high-risk military move to U.S. media. "This is not something we would like to see from our American allies. Actually, this is not something allies do to each other," he said.
Turkish officials' frustration with their American colleagues has a long history in Syria. In other areas, however, Turkey has usually found itself left alone or somehow cheated by its NATO ally. These include the U.S.'s silence on Iraq's sectarian, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's policies; U.S. opposition to Turkey's plans to sell oil from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to international markets and the U.S.'s unreliable position during the Iran nuclear deal that Turkey and Brazil brokered in 2010.
The second Turkish official even went further and claimed that there was no administration at the White House since it cannot agree and carry out any reliable foreign policy strategy. The official personally accused U.S. President Barack Obama, "He cannot decide on anything, and if he does, he cannot implement it." He also said the upcoming U.S. presidential election is a factor that is influencing the Obama administration's handling of Syria and the press.
The New York Times profile on Obama's foreign policy guru Ben Rhodes last week provided a striking insight into the White House's media strategy and the factors that have been affecting Obama's decision making. The one thing clear is that whatever the U.S. administration leaks to the press has an aim or agenda. If we remember, the same White House accused Turkey of conducting oil business with DAESH in the fall of 2014 to pressure Turkey to open its bases. After Ankara decided to cooperate with the U.S., they changed their talking points and defended Turkey aggressively when Russia raised the same allegations.
The Rhodes profile proves that the Obama administration constantly manipulated the U.S. media, and the journalists who Rhodes deemed "young and inexperienced" in order to create a convincing narrative on the Iran deal.
I believe the White House produced a similar narrative about Turkey and its president following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Washington in May 2013 when the two leaders realized that they had two immensely different agendas in Syria. Since then the White House has systematically used the U.S. media and the international press to criticize Erdoğan and pressure him to agree with the U.S.'s strategy for Syria.
Turkey and the U.S. will turn over a new leaf when the new administration comes into office, but until then we have more than six months to cover similar disputed accounts from Syria since the U.S. and Turkey still cannot get along regarding their foreign policy strategies in the region.