A former United States envoy has asked Turkey to explain why Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the fugitive leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) who recently died during a US military raid in northwestern Syria was found just a few miles from the country’s border.
“Last night, the US brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” US President Donald Trump said on Sunday, announcing that the ISIS leader killed himself during a US raid a day earlier.
Brett McGurk, a former special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, argued in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday that Turkey has to explain why Baghdadi’s body was found a few miles from the Turkish border in northwestern Syria, instead of eastern Syria or western Iraq.
“Baghdadi was found not in his traditional areas of eastern Syria or western Iraq, but rather in northwestern Syria … in Idlib province, which has been protected by a dozen Turkish military outposts since early 2018,” McGurk wrote.
Underlining that most of the nearly 40,000 foreign fighters that flooded Syria during its civil war “came through Turkey” into northwestern Syria, said it is “telling” that the US chose to launch the raid from miles away in Iraq, rather than using the facilities of its NATO ally just across the border.
“The US also reportedly did not notify Turkey of the raid except when our forces came close to its borders, the same notification we would have provided to adversaries such as Russia and Syria,” McGurk stated.
The former envoy held forth that Idlib, the last stronghold of rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has become “the world’s largest terrorist haven.”
“It is largely controlled by al-Qaeda’s formal affiliate in Syria, which is sustained by cross-border trade and enjoys symbiotic relationships with Turkey-backed opposition groups. Now we know the area was hospitable enough for the world’s most-wanted terrorist to camp out with his extended family,” he continued.
“This would be the perfect time to … act on what is likely a trove of intelligence pulled from the Baghdadi compound. … But our abrupt pullout from Syria will make it harder to act on this information,” he also noted.
McGurk had harshly criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from the Syria-Turkey border, which cleared the way for Ankara to launch an offensive in northeastern Syria on October 9 that targeted Syrian Kurdish fighters who were important US allies in the war against ISIS.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) controlling important areas in the region along with prisons holding the ISIS fighters, recently alleged that hundreds of foreigners linked to ISIS fled during Turkish shelling as part of the country’s recently launched military operation.