Connect with us

Middle East

The new Libyan crisis and Turkey’s presence in Tripolitania

Published

on

It seemed that the Mediterranean region had been forgotten during the Cold War, where instead the Limes from Szczecin to Trieste was central – and it was a technical mistake – two cities that Churchill mentioned in his famous speech on the “Iron Curtain” of March 5, 1946 in Fulton.

In all likelihood, however, it was George Orwell that in 1945coined the specific expression “Cold War”, in an essay entitled You and the Atom Bomb.

  Also the presence of the Soviet naval Eskadra – slightly belated compared to the initial U.S. Fifth Fleet – was mainly linked to the protection of peripheral maritime areas from Syria to Eastern Mediterranean and the Dodecanese, not to mention the Soviet pressure on Turkey, a powerful NATO country on the USSR border.

 The Cold War crisis and the “fall of the Berlin Wall”, however, have brought the Mediterranean back to the core of many countries’ strategic doctrines.

 The Mediterranean is the natural end of the Chinese project of the New Silk Road.It is also the point of contact between Europe and the Arab world, i.e. with all the souls of the Arab world, which is the only area – along with China – that has collectively expanded its rayonnement after the end of the Cold War. The Mediterranean region is also the axis of the new economic and strategic Israeli expansion. Finally, it should also be recalled that it is the unavoidable channel of connection with Africa, which will be at the core of the already easily predictable geoeconomy of the near future.

We should also note the new U.S. posture towards the Pacific to encircle China and hence the relative decrease in the U.S. pressure on the Mediterranean region.

With its childish, but irrelevant Libyan policy, Italy has already been removed from the list of old and new powers that are currently redesigning the Mediterranean region.

Nowadays, those who give the cards in the Mediterranean are Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, as well as obviously the Russian Federation and China. When the cats are away, the mice will play.

 Even the oil and gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean region change many of the current economic and political games and trigger new alliances.

Greece, for example, has officially and recently announced it cannot rule out the use of force in a possible conflict with Turkey. Just think that they are two NATO countries

As shown in a note drawn up jointly by Turkey and the Libyan GNA, what is at stake here are the 24 new blocks for oil and gas exploration existing in a region that would deprive Greece of some Dodecanese areas and would almost completely close the sea of Athens, thus making it a strategic object in Turkey’s hands.

Furthermore, the agreement between Turkey and Libya, as well as the sending of Idlib’s jihadists and other units of the Turkish Armed Forces, started on January 2, 2020, when the Turkish Parliamentary Assembly approved the sending of troops to support al-Sarraj’s government, connected to Turkey by a wide network of relations including those made available to the Muslim Brotherhood.

 Certainly, the GNA’s Operation “Volcano of Rage” is correlated to a strong rearmament, on the part of Russia and Syria, of Khalifa Haftar’s LNA, which, for the time being, must limit the damage and avoid the spreading of al-Sarraj’s Libyan Turks.

As we will see later on, the withdrawal of Haftar’s air forces from al-Watiya was already being negotiated between the two sides. According to the Libyan broadcaster Libya24,however, there is already a pact between Erdogan and Putin to guarantee only to Turkey the Al-Watiya base, which would become – also with Russia’s agreement – a base shared by Turkey and the U.S. AFRICOM. In exchange for it, Russia would obtain the Qartabiyah air base near Sirte, as well as a naval base, again in Sirte, to give Russia the only thing it really wants to obtain from its Libyan adventure, i.e. a base in the central Mediterranean region.

 It is even said that Erdogan harshly ordered Haftar – through a “Russian mediator” – to cease fighting and withdraw from his previous positions south of Tripoli.

In view of having a base shared with al-Sarraj’s Navy, the ideal base for Turkey is certainly Abu Sitta. Nothing to do with the usual complaining by Italy, always waiting for an agreement that will never seriously come with Tripoli’s Navy.

 In Abu Sitta, in fact, an Italian military ship is at anchor, which coordinates – with 70 soldiers – the work of the Libyan Coast Guard to fight against illegal migration.

Who will be heard more in Tripoli, the Italian government or Turkey’s new neo-Ottoman imperialism? The answer is very easy.

 The retreat of Haftar’s LNA seems justified above all by the need to protect the units most exposed to the Turkish Bayrackar TB2 drones. It is likely, however, that the LNA of Cyrenaica wants to disengage from direct contact with the enemy and then reorganize south of Tarhouna, where many Russian, Emirates and Jordanian advisors operate.

 In recent months, Turkey has brought 9,600 mercenaries to Libya and other 3,300 ones are training in Syrian camps.

 The GNA’s army itself, which had been sidelined by the advance of Khalifa Haftar’s LNA forces, also reconquered Bani Walid, south-east of Tripoli, where the Tripoline militias entered the city without firing a shot, thanks to the local authorities’ cooperation.

The military actions on the ground followed one another in rapid succession: on May 18, the GNA also conquered the above stated military base of Al Watiya, the former inevitable strength of Haftar’s LNA.

Currently a proxy war is being fought in Libya: Turkey and Qatar against Egypt, UAEs and Saudi Arabia, who want everything but Turkish hegemony over Libya. And vice versa.

  The foolish pride of the “great” Europeans has allowed the permanent and stable crisis of the Libyan territory, after a hammering and manipulative series of trivial defamation operations against Gaddafi and his greatest ally, namely Italy. Do you believe that all the rhetoric – often even well-founded – against some of Italy’s Heads of government was unbiased and gratuitous, whatever mistakes they may have made?

 There is also the hypothesis, which is now even more than a hypothesis, that Turkey would like to build military infrastructure together with NATO in Southern Libya, which would be the real game changer of the current balance of forces on the territory.

Certainly Italy, too, will participate in this operation, within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance, but only to play second fiddle compared to Turkey, which has no interest in having Italy as a partner, neither economically nor militarily, and certainly not in Libya.

 Incidentally, the failed meeting of Prime Minister Conte with Haftar and al-Sarraj – later held only with the LNA General – at the beginning of January 2020, was a masterpiece of ineptitude, which definitively marginalized our diplomacy and deprived Italy of a real influence ability, under the banner of the “equivalence” between the two fronts.

 Probably Conte only wanted to take credit for the truce actually arranged by Russia and Turkey.

The truce designed by Putin and Erdogan both in Idlib and, later, in Libya, conceals a strategic plan of considerable importance: the splitting up of Syria and then of Libya into regular and clear zones of influence, excluding the United States and its European and Western allies that will have no room in Syria nor even less in Libya.

 Putin will obviously use Haftar’s LNA until it suits him. Later he will probably leave it to its fate and possibly deal with other new powerful regional African players: Algeria, which is moving in a strongly anti-Turkish direction; Sudan, where Turkey already has a military base on the island of Sawakin; Morocco, where one of the main local parties, the Justice and Development Party, is strongly connected to Erdogan and his AKP.

 Libya, however, must be considered within the framework of a set of political, economic and military relations that are now very broad and concern the interconnection between Libya and Africa, including sub-Saharan Africa.

 Haftar’s forces, however, had already left Bani Walid, again without firing a shot. The way mines were laid by Haftar’s LNA makes us think that the agreement had been reached well before military moves.

Furthermore, the GNA and Turkey also reconquered the city of Tarhouna, 95 kilometers from Tripoli, which had been one of the poles of Haftar’s relentless and overwhelming advance.

ObviouslyTripoli’s GNA now wants to reconquer the whole Sirte region, but above all the city bearing the same name, the real junction for controlling communications and trade between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

 Meanwhile, the governments of Tripoli and Tobruk have already agreed to resume their negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations, especially to make the best use of IRINI, the naval mission led by Admiral Fabio Agostini, aimed at controlling the passage of weapons in the Mediterranean to the Libyan coast.

 An activity that will not be very successful, considering that loads of M60 tanks coming from Turkish arsenals have already arrived by sea to Misrata. The mission is being prepared by land from Tripoli to Sirte.

The closure of Haftar’s room for manoeuvre towards the East and the coast up to Tunis is another card now played only by Turkey.

Hence what does Turkey want from al-Sarraj’s Libya? First and foremost a primary economic and strategic role in the future Libyan reconstruction. Secondly the autonomous drilling of the above stated oil maritime areas in the Eastern Mediterranean region, disputed between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.

The GNA has long authorized the Turkish Petroleum Company to carry out exploration in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

 Turkey’s main point of reference is Qatar.

For example, the Vice-Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces is also the President of the Qatari Military Academy, but the Turkish Security Forces and Intelligence Services play a significant role in the Emirate, by closely cooperating and, sometimes, replacing the small but efficient Qatari Forces.

 The Turkish operation in Northern Syria had very strong support from the Emirate, which regarded the Turkish mission in Syria “Source of Peace” as a wide and effective attempt of the Ikhwan to expand into the Sunni area of Syria.

Also al-Sisi, however, soon entered this Libyan game. On June 6 last, he announced an Egyptian Plan called the “Cairo Initiative”, aimed at reaching a ceasefire starting from June 8.

 Al-Sisi’s initiative is obviously designed to regaining control of the situation in Libya, after Khalifa Haftar’s evident defeat, in open conflict and competition with Turkey and possibly against the aims of Qatar and probably of France itself, whose Intelligence Services’Brigade Action greatly supported Haftar’s LNA and continues to do so.

Particularly against the Italian oil and strategic interests.

 The idea underlying Al Sisi’ strategy, but also Russia’s, is that Libya should be pacified and rebuilt following the current political-military fault lines, without waiting for an impossible future reunification.

 The young Libyans who were trained by the Italian Intelligence Services in a place of Central Italy in 2011 often repeated that, if a strong national government were not quickly achieved, the territorial, tribal and criminal gangs and faction would disrupt the Libyan political and economic system definitively and irreparably.

 Moreover, the very recent Egyptian plan suggests – in agreement with al-Sarraj’s himself – the removal of all foreign mercenaries present in all factions and then the creation of a “Presidential Council” elected by all the Libyan people equally representing the three historical regions, namely Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan, under the U.N. control, and also including women, young people and old tribal leaders.

 A vague, complex, cumbersome and currently impracticable project which, however, shows that Egypt wants to wait for better times to do what it has always wanted to do: to gain influence over the part of Libya bordering on Egypt and differently regulate both the migration of Egyptian workers to the Libyan oil wells, and the oil issue itself, both with al-Sarraj and with those who will reconquer Cyrenaica if Haftar failed again.

 Italy does not even give a sign. Yet the oil, migration, economic and even traditional interests should make any Italian government think that Italy, too, should take part – and possibly play a great role – in the project for splitting up Libya.

It should pursue again the Italian national interest and stop using its Armed Forces as a sort of Red Cross or Civil Protection, as well as avoid believing, or pretending to believe blindly and optimistically in the “magnificent and progressive fortunes” of international Conferences. It should also think that Libya is not only the memory of a pre-Fascist colonial past, but the axis of our inevitable and huge interests in the Maghreb region and throughout Africa.

 How many Socialist Democrats volunteered in Libya in the 1910s, on the wave of Pascoli’s famous speech “The Great Proletarian nation is on the Move”!

 How the Libyan issue can be solved, in one way or another, without placing it into a broader context, remains a sorrowful mystery – but now only for Italy.

 For Italy, Libya is obviously its oil. ENI has seven extraction-processing areas available but, according to 2019 data, Italy receives 7 million oil tons from Tripoli (and Sirte), equivalent to 12.1% of its total energy imports.

For Italy, Libya is only the starting point and often criminal regimentation of many migrants. Here the core of the issue is the real understanding of this phenomenon.

  The Libyan-Italian Memorandum of Understanding on Migration (LIMUM) was signed last February and later extended for additional three years.

 The LIMUM envisages the Italian support to the Libyan authorities, which can stop the boats and ships leaving from the Libyan coast and then make migrants return to their shelters on Libyan territory.

It is legislation contrary to EU law and just one of the many attempts to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Hence what can be done? To find an agreement between all EU countries, which are now very happy to palm off all the irregular migrants from Libya to Italy, so as to create-irrespective of the real presence of al-Sarraj’s GNA that would have many fewer problems to solve – a series of civil and organized control-selection-permanence camps to stop and identify part of the sub-Saharan migration, in the necessary time cycles.

No agreements are reached with the countries of the region. They are all too happy to get rid of a share of “human overproduction” – as Konrad Lorenz called it – and they will never accept to have to keep a “dangerous crowd” who, at the most, will only be used as blackmail for Westerners who, in the end, will receive it anyway.

Hence migration control camps out of the reach of al-Sarraj’s government and the major tribes operating as intermediaries of illegal migration.

With a view to defending them, a NATO-based Control Force will be created, albeit with Rules of Engagement that do not seem to be drafted written – as has sometimes happened – by inexperienced people.

It will be necessary, however, to choose a local champion that – together with the Italian Armed Forces, now getting out of their internationalist and pacifist dream or nightmare – will make us pursue our real interests in Libya, regardless of its being one or many, which is now not so much important for Italy.

Obviously, with a view to protecting the Italianoil, we will need not only the intelligent work of ENI, which knows very well how to move on its own in those circumstances, but also a control unit involving both the Intelligence Services and Special Corps, as already provided for by Law No. 198 of December 11, 2015.

 A control unit that must “do politics”, i.e. choose, pay, direct and train a fairly significant group of local militants to oppose – also with weapons – the interests of other countries, possibly even allies, operating in that system.

 All the Special Forces operate in crisis theatres permanently and with offensive and intrusive operations.

Certainly also Italy has done so, albeit in areas where there was a wide network of protection and coverage by NATO and other allied countries.

 Now time has come to take action on our own.

 CIA’ Special Activities Division has its own Special Operation Group (SGO), which operates in underground actions in major crisis theatres, with extensive legal rules and regulations.

After all, as Tocqueville said, “America is a country of lawyers”.

 The French Commandement des Operations Speciales (COS) operates permanently, and especially in Africa, together with the Brigade (or Service) Action of the Direction Générale de la Securité Extérieure (DGSE).

 The SA is largely autonomous in the collection of all types of intelligence and choice of operations.

 The British E Squadron operates with the Secret Intelligence Service and is made up of elements coming from the SAS and the SBS. In short, it will be necessary to pull our claws out – with both secret and overt operations – to conquer the part of Libya we need to organize and pursue our interests. Without believing too blindly in the “magnificent and progressive fortunes” that, unlike his cousin Terenzio Mamiani, Giacomo Leopardi challenged and derided.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

Syria: 10 years of war has left at least 350,000 dead

Published

on

A decade of war in Syria has left more 350,200 people dead, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council on Friday, noting that this total was an “under-count of the actual number of killings”.

These are a result of a war that spiralled out of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Based on the “rigorous work” of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), she said that the tally, which includes civilians and combatants, is based on “strict methodology” requiring the deceased’s full name, the date of death, and location of the body.

People behind the numbers

In the first official update on the death toll since 2014, Ms. Bachelet informed the Council that more than one in 13 of those who died due to conflict, was a woman – 26,727 in all – and almost one in 13 was a child – a grim total of 27,126 young lives lost.

The Governorate of Aleppo saw the greatest number of documented killings, with 51,731 named individuals.

Other heavy death tolls were recorded in Rural Damascus, 47,483; Homs, 40,986; Idlib, 33,271; Hama, 31,993; and Tartus, 31,369.

Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights”, reminded the High Commissioner.

“We must always make victims’ stories visible, both individually and collectively, because the injustice and horror of each of these deaths should compel us to action.”

More accountability needed

Her office, OHCHR, is processing information on alleged perpetrators, recording victims civilian or combatant status and the type of weapons used, Ms. Bachelet said.

To provide a more complete picture of the scale and impact of the conflict, the UN agency has also established statistical estimation techniques to account for missing data.  

The High Commissioner explained that documenting deaths complements efforts to account for missing people and that her office has been helping the families of the missing, to engage with international human rights mechanisms.

Given the vast number of those missing in Syria, Ms. Bachelet echoed her call for an independent mechanism, with a strong international mandate, to “clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains; and provide support to relatives”.

No end to the violence

Today, the daily lives of the Syrian people remain “scarred by unimaginable suffering”, the UN human rights chief said, adding that they have endured a decade of conflict, face deepening economic crisis and struggle with the impacts of COVID-19.

Extensive destruction of infrastructure has significantly affected the realization of essential economic and social rights, and there is still no end to the violence.

It is incumbent upon us all to listen to the voices of Syria’s survivors and victims, and to the stories of those who have now fallen silent for ever”, the High Commissioner concluded.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Lessons Learned: US Seek to Salvage their Relations with the Syrian Kurds

Published

on

The hasty retreat of the US troops from Afghanistan has left a sizeable dent in the reputation of the White House among the American public, in the Middle East and the world in general. Washington was criticised heavily for the betrayal of the Afghan government, which paved the way for Taliban to storm to power.

It’s only natural that such events created a breeding ground for uncertainty among US allies in the region. Some of them started to reevaluate their relationship with the White House after the Afghan fiasco; others were having doubts about the US’ commitment beforehand. Current situation forces Washington to take firm actions to validate their status as a powerhouse in the region. There are indicators that US leadership has found a way to regain trust from its allies starting with Kurdish armed units in Syria.

The Kurds became a key ally to the US in their quest to defeat ISIS in Syria. Washington helped to create the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who consequently established control over oil-rich regions in the north-eastern Syria. However the rapid rise of Kurdish influence triggered discontent from other parties of the Syrian conflict: the Assad government and Turkey, who considers SDF an offshoot of the PKK, designated as a terror group by the Turkish authorities. Under this pretext Ankara conducted three full-scale military operations against the Kurds in spite of its membership in the US led coalition.

Turkey remains a major headache for the US in northern Syria as it obstructs the development of a Kurdish autonomy. US failure to act during the Turkish offensive on Al-Bab and then Afrin is still considered one of the most agonizing experiences in the recent history of American-Kurdish partnership. On the flip side, this relationship had its bright moments. US forces were persistent in their cooperation with the Kurds despite Donald Trump’s efforts to withdraw US military presence from Syria. Furthermore, former Pentagon’s chief James Mattis increased funding of SDF in 2019 to a record high of $300 million.

Although the US cut back its support for the Kurds after proclaiming victory over ISIS, it’s still sufficient for SDF to stay among the most combat-capable forces in Syria. US provide machinery, equipment and ammunition, but most importantly teach the Kurds the skills to profit from their resources. Besides training SDF rank soldiers, the American troops prepare their special forces HAT (Hêzên Antî Teror, Anti-Terror Forces) primarily tasked with establishing security on oil facilities as well as detection and elimination of terrorists. In terms of their equipment they practically hold their own even against US troops. During their operations HAT fighters use standardized weaponry, night goggles and other modern resources.

Regardless of all the US aid military capabilities of SDF have one critical vulnerability, namely the lack of air defense. This weakness is successfully exploited by Turkey who uses their drones to bomb Kurdish positions. For the last couple of months the number of air strikes has significantly increased, which brought SDF to find new methods of deflecting air attacks.

There are good grounds to believe that Washington accommodated their partner’s troubles. Thus a source from an US air-base in Middle-East who asked to keep his name and position anonymous told us that on the 18th of September three combat-capable trainer aircraft T-6 Texan have been deployed to Tell Beydar air-base in Hasakah province, Syria. According to the source American instructors have begun a crash course in air pilotage with the candidates picked form the SDF ranks long before the airplanes arrived to their destination. This is implicitly confirmed by the large shipment of US weaponry, machinery and ammunition to Tell Beydar delivered on the 17th of September that included missiles compatible with Texan aircraft.

The sole presence of airplanes, even trainer aircraft, prompts a change in the already existing power balance. T-6 Texan can be used not only for air cover but also as a counter tool to Turkish “Bayraktar” UAVs especially if US grant Kurds access to intel from the radars situated on US air bases. Ultimately, from Turkey’s standpoint it must look like an attempt from the US military to create PKK’s own air force.

This being said the US are better off using political means rather than military if the goal is to handicap Turkish interests in Syria. The groundwork for this has been laid thanks to a reshuffle in the White House under Biden administration. First came the resignation of former US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James F. Jeffrey infamous for his soft spot for Turkey, who has been openly promoting pro-Turkish views in the White House during his tenure. In addition to the loss of their man in Washington, Turkey has gained a powerful adversary represented by the new National Security Council coordinator for the Middle-East and North Africa Brett McGurk. McGurk is a polar opposite to Jeffrey and has sided with the Kurds on numerous occasions. He is well respected among the leaders of SDF because of his work as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to counter ISIS.

The only yet the most important question that is yet to be answered is the position of US president Joe Biden. So far Biden’s administration has been avoiding radical shifts regarding its Syria policy. Development of cooperation with the Kurds considering they have proven their reliability might come as a logical solution that will also allow the White House to show their teeth. Washington cannot endure another Afghanistan-like fiasco that will destroy their reputation figuratively and their allies literally. Even with all possible negative outcomes taken into account the enhancement of cooperation with the Kurds outweighs the drawbacks and remains the optimal route for the US.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Turkish Geopolitics and the Kabul Airport Saga

Published

on

Image credit: Hurriyet daily news

The Taliban’s ultimate agreement to a prominent Turkish security presence at Afghanistan’s only airport completes an important power-play for the latter. Ankara wishes to establish itself as a dominant player in the post-U.S. withdrawal Afghan affairs, ensuring that the U.S. looks to it as an ideal partner for its future policies in Afghanistan. It is in this context that Turkey having overcome the formerly heated rejections by the Taliban of its proposed role at the airport is highly significant as it portends the closer integration of Afghanistan into familiar Turkish geopolitical agendas.

Turkey’s Afghan power-play and the U.S.

Turkey’s announcement in June of plans to militarily manage the security at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport with U.S. financial support incensed the Taliban.

By not consulting or informing the powerful Islamist group on such a major issue in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Turkey signaled its view of the Taliban as inimical non-state actors lacking the stature to act upon the pretext of Afghan sovereignty. Indeed, President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Taliban of the ‘occupation’ of the Afghan territory in response to their warnings that Turkey’s airport plan violated the Doha Accords in terms of the exit of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and that they would harshly react to it.

The Taliban’s near-effortless takeover of Kabul in mid-August seemed to close the chapter on the airport saga, but deadly ISIS bombings near the airport two weeks later forced the new regime to consider external help in filling the Afghan security vacuum.

Consequently, Turkey gained not only an acquiescence from Afghanistan’s strongest faction to its desired role at the airport but also an affirmation of its capacity to face down and override local actors as a foreign power seeking to guide its Afghan initiatives to fruition.

This may appeal strongly to the U.S., which has increased its geoeconomic interests in Afghanistan in parallel with the process of its military disengagement from the country. These interests take the form of large infrastructure trade projects of a regional scale and would benefit if shielded from the whims of domestic Afghan factions that tend to cripple governance and policy implementation. Ankara’s assertive posture during the airport tussle with the Taliban helps it pitch itself to Washington as capable of doing precisely this.

The Central Asia factor

These trade infrastructure projects in Afghanistan aim to develop it as a transit hub for Central Asian trade to extra-regional markets as outlined in the U.S. ‘Strategy for Central Asia 2019-25’. The U.S. affords considerable importance to this strategy both as a means of rebuilding Afghanistan and providing the Central Asian states with new trade routes that do not need to transit the territory of Russia, their former Soviet patron and America’s great-power rival.

Turkey shares the goal of increasing Central Asia’s global connectivity, whilst envisioning itself the natural leader and conduit for the Turkic Central Asian states’ growing socio-economic bonds with the outside world. By acting as a lead-from-the-front partner for the U.S. in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Turkey can persuade the U.S. to entrust it with the Afghan leg of the Strategy for Central Asia.

Turkey could then inculcate the progress of its own connectivity projects for Central Asia into the U.S. priorities as a premium of sorts for its services tackling Afghanistan-based risks and hazards to the U.S. Strategy for Central Asia. These Turkish-led projects include the East West Trans-Caspian Middle Corridor (connecting Turkmenistan-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan to Europe via the Caspian Sea-South Caucasus-Turkey route) and its Eastern spur for Afghanistan, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor (connecting northwest Afghanistan via Turkmenistan to the same Caspian Sea-South Caucasus-Turkey route to Europe).

The text of the US Strategy for Central Asia does mention and pledge favourable visa and customs policies for the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, but does not mention the Middle Corridor or Turkey at all. The absence of the latter two key names indicates that U.S. backing for the Lapis Lazuli Corridor likely owed to the simple fact that it directly includes Afghanistan and has already been functional since December 2018. Thus, the U.S. does not formally endorse the East-West connectivity for Central Asia—which Turkey specializes at—under the rubric of its Strategy for Central Asia.

“Senior [Trump] administration officials have expressed support for specific infrastructure projects—such as, notably, Georgia’s deep-water port project in Anaklia—but without having cast them as part of a broader regional agenda,” commented Middle East Institute scholar Dr John Calabrese on the erstwhile Donald Trump administration’s position on the Middle Corridor months before the Strategy on Central Asia’s release.

All this greatly limits the pool of U.S. financial and political support that Turkey could tap into for developing and expanding the Middle Corridor, which is the lynchpin for its push for pan-Turkic leadership. Ankara’s remedy for this problem, however, may lie in gaining the mentioned lead-from-the-front ally status vis-a-vis the U.S. in Afghanistan.

As observed by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute’s Chairman and Director Frederick Starr and Svante Cornell, the present U.S. approach represents important shifts in the American conceptualization of Afghanistan and Central Asia relative to each other. These are a departure from the long-standing tendency to ‘view Central Asia as an appendix to Afghanistan policy’ and an embrace of Central Asia as a bloc. Both these shifts laid the basis for the U.S. Afghan policy to take its cue from Central Asia’s development. Officially mandating the development of an East-West transport corridor from Central Asia to Europe—in short, Turkey’s Middle Corridor—is the next logical step in this paradigm.

Starr and Cornell, leading proponents in the U.S. policy advocacy community for treating Afghanistan as part of Central Asia, identify the East-West transport corridor as crucial to the Strategy for Central Asia and criticize the document for not mentioning it.

Thus, from its position in Afghanistan, Turkey can orient the inputs it feeds back to its diplomatic and military partners in Washington around the case for the merger of the U.S. Afghanistan and Central Asia policies that Starr and Cornel advocate. The U.S. will expect actionable suggestions from its top consultative partner for Afghanistan to actualize this merger, paving the way for Turkey to impactfully pitch the Middle Corridor as the solution.

This could well become an elusive opening that Turkey has long needed to bridge the chasm between the Middle Corridor’s innate appeal to the U.S. great-power sensitivities underpinning its Central Asia posture and the U.S. seeming disinterest in the corridor. After all, the Middle Corridor bypasses Russia, challenging its monopoly over Central Asia’s trade routes. It also acts as what Starr describes as a ‘Land Suez’ for China to connect to Europe—reducing China’s reliance on transiting Russia for this purpose and offsetting, from Washington’s perspective, the prospect of its two great-power rivals’ geoeconomic priorities aligning too closely.

Subsequent U.S. endorsement of the Middle Corridor would stimulate greater U.S. investment in the mega-project, hitherto limited by the Strategy for Central Asia’s non-mention of East-West connectivity as explored prior.

In addition to this, the Middle Corridor could become an agenda item in multilateral platforms for Central Asia, such as the C5+1, set up by the U.S. with a focus on the Afghan-Central Asian connectivity. This would prop up advocates in Turkic Central Asia for a formal embrace of an Ankara-led Turkic bloc by enabling them to present this as part of the institutionalization of Central Asian affairs as opposed to a pro-Turkish tilt which might alarm Russia, who has a past record of reacting forcefully to external powers engaging in bloc-building in its former Soviet backyard in Eurasia. This will greatly benefit Turkey.

Restoring balance with the West

Afghanistan can arguably bring Turkey’s ideologically-driven desire to carve a Turkic bloc from Central Asia and its more general desire to mitigate the strains in bilateral ties with the U.S. closer together than any other foreign policy file in Ankara.

Linked to Central Asia or not, Afghanistan stands out as a vacuum left by American strategic miscalculations at the regional doorstep of several U.S. rivals. Turkish initiatives, such as the Kabul airport project, clearly designed to preserve U.S. stakes in Afghanistan—at a time when Russia, Iran and China appear poised to capitalize on the U.S. shrinking presence there—can inject fresh credibility into Turkey’s historical image as the West’s Eurasian vanguard.

This will help President Erdogan as he tries to stabilize relations with the U.S. against their list of disputes, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian air defense systems to the U.S. support for Kurdish groups near the Turkish-Syrian border and beyond. Additionally, President Joe Biden faces mounting public and political pressure at home over the rapid collapse of the former U.S.-backed Kabul government in the Taliban’s wake; in this context, Turkey volunteering itself as a new and coherent vehicle for U.S. interests in Afghanistan may prove the very ice-breaker Erdogan needs for his notably bleak relationship with Biden.

However much progress Ankara makes in these endeavours, its headstrong approach and eventual success in securing a role at Kabul’s airport points to strategic clarity and an expectation of Afghanistan’s seamless integration into Turkish geopolitics.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending