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October 03, 2012, Wednesday

Nations run out of ideas on Syria as FSA runs out of ammunition

Neither Turkish-US bilateral cooperation nor multilateral meetings taking place among various countries on ending the bloodshed in Syria, where the Assad regime's brutal crackdown continues unabated against the opposition, have produced any recipe to address the problem.

NATO member Turkey, a neighbor of Syria that houses perhaps now more than 100,000 registered and unregistered Syrian refugees, continues diplomatic efforts, though in vain, not to be left alone by its allies in tackling the refugee problem as well as in aiding the downfall of Assad regime. It is true that Turkey did not envisage such a massive refugee influx as it had projected an earlier downfall of the Assad regime. It is also a fact that Turkey made a mistake by not accepting financial aid, for example, from the European Union -- the biggest financer in such crises -- even if this offer was not made directly to the Turkish Red Crescent. Turkey is always suspicious of foreign aid for refugees provided through other channels out of a fear that the refugees will be negatively influenced by foreign elements. On the other hand, a lack of transparency and accountability in the Turkish system is speculated to have prompted foreign aid suppliers to make donations to Turkey through, for example, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Turkey instead seeks aid for Syrian refugees paid directly to the Turkish Red Crescent.

On the political side, Turkey is heavily involved in lending logistical support both to the Syrian opposition as well as to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in helping to end the Assad regime. This support is believed to have fallen short of supplying arms directly from the Turkish inventory to the FSA. Though Turkey hosts Syrian officers who have defected from the Syrian army in a separate camp in southern Turkey, it is understood that it does not provide training.

But as the fighting between Assad regime forces and the opposition now takes place near the Turkish border, nations are running out of ideas over what to do with Syria and the FSA is running out of ammunition, too.

An earlier meeting held in İstanbul by the intelligence chiefs of various countries as well as Turkish-US working group meetings can be cited as among platforms at which ideas on what to do with Syria were few. Though it was not widely covered in the Turkish media, a summit meeting was held by the intelligence chiefs of France, Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in İstanbul in early September. As a matter of fact, the summit idea came as a surprise to CIA chief David Petraeus, whose visit to İstanbul was intended to be for a one-to-one meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, the undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). But it was later understood that Turkey had invited the intelligence chiefs of other countries, turning a one-to-one meeting into a summit. This reflected an attempt by Turkey not to be left alone in dealing with the Syrian crisis.

The intention of the intelligence summit was to improve intelligence sharing regarding what was going on Syria, such as the activities of al-Qaeda and the situation of the FSA, and how to coordinate to improve the FSA's ability to fight. However, the summit did not yield any results on how to coordinate over the matters mentioned above. This was mainly because none of the countries to attend the İstanbul summit had the same agenda on Syria, though they all publicly declare that the Assad regime should go. None of these countries -- and others -- wants to take drastic steps on Syria. Turkey, for example, is not willing to give arms to the FSA out of a fear these arms may end up in the hands of militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is active in Syria, too. The US, on the other hand, thinks that arms given to the FSA may go to al-Qaeda. Hence, no one is willing to take such big steps as supplying the FSA with arms, including aircraft and anti-aircraft guns, to strengthen the opposition army against Bashar al-Assad's forces.

There has not been progress, either, on the ongoing working group meetings concerning Syria and set up between Turkey and the US after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Ankara early in August.

In the midst of nations running out of ideas and the FSA running out of ammunition, Turkey finds itself more alone as the fighting between Assad's forces and the Syrian rebels begin to take place nearer to the Turkish border, carrying with them the risk of a spillover of the conflict onto Turkish soil.

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