In a recent report top Middle East journalist and expert Jonathan Speyer take a closer look on Turkey’s use of Syrian militias in its war with the Kurds and the combination of political and military muscle as the key to succeed in today’s fragmented Middle East.
In the article, Speyer argues that in order to wield influence and gain advantages in today’s Middle East, it’s paramount to combine those military and political forces in the field. “Political soldiering” is most vividly displayed by the Iranian IRGC, which is not loyal to the Iranian state as much as to the present regime and its overall strategic goals (watch the ongoing conflict between President Rouhani and the IRGC/Khamenei leadership).
The IRGC is important in this new way of conducting foreign policy, and its model is being used by other actors, such as Turkey. The big advantage of the IRGC-structure is that it can be used by Teheran in everything from assassinating Kurds in Europe, to conduct terror-attacks on Jewish targets across the globe (like in Buenos Aires and Burgos) and to create proxy-forces loyal to it to project power in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This political party-like militia has the advantage of informality and deniability compared to conventional forces and gives Teheran the chance of still being invited into the diplomatic salons.
The Turkish iteration into this way of doing business is called the SADAT Defence Consultancy and is headed by a former Brigadier General, Adnan Tanriverdi. He was expelled from the army in 1997 because of his Islamist leanings and his ties to Erdogan go back a long time. In 2016 he was appointed Chief Military Advisor to the President.
Other countries are using this model too: Russia used irregular “volunteers” to foment disturbances in Lugansk and Donetsk provinces in eastern Ukraine and military contractors connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Company, has played a key-role in Russian interference in Syria.
The SADAT consultancy’s own website is clear about the Islamist goals and the Company’s mission is explained as: “establish a Defensive Collaboration and Defensive Industrial Cooperation among Islamic Countries to help Islamic World take the place where it merits among Super Powers by providing Consultancy and Training Services.” And just to make things even clearer it goes on to call Western states “crusader” and “imperialist” countries.
After the failed coup-attempt in July 2016, Erdogan’s Islamist project took on a new and more aggressive stance with re-instating hundreds of officers dismissed or expelled for Islamist leanings. And SADAT was set up in order to facilitate training and equipping forces outside of the regular Turkish army to help expand Turkish aims in Syria. It’s noteworthy that those aims very often put Turkey on a collision-course with its NATO-allies.
In Syria, Turkey’s main creation is the so called Free Syrian Army, whose Sunni recruits have been trained and equipped by SADAT. And even though it’s the Syrian Kurds that has been the focus of FSA, allegations that SADAT is training militias to use on Turkish political opposition have surfaced from time to time.
Erdogan’s long-term project to destroy the secular republic of Kemal Ataturk and create an Islamic republic instead, is greatly helped by institutions such as SADAT, combining external power-projection with providing muscles to help Erdogan’s repressive politics at home.