The spokesman for U.S. operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria said Russia’s claim that the Turkish government is oil dealing with the Islamic State is “preposterous.”
Russia’s defense ministry today released satellite images they said showed oil tankers loading up at ISIS facilities in Iraq and Syria, then crossing the border into Turkey. They claim that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are personally involved in the lucrative trade.
“Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – are involved in this criminal business,” said Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov. “Maybe I’m being too blunt, but one can only entrust control over this thieving business to one’s closest associates.”
“In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president’s son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son-in-law has been appointed energy minister. What a marvelous family business!” Antonov continued. “The cynicism of the Turkish leadership knows no limits. Look what they’re doing. They went into someone else’s country, they are robbing it without compunction.”
Russia launched the allegations in earnest after last week’s Turkish takedown of a Russian Su-24, which crashed within Syria. Turkey said the plane received multiple warnings that it was in Turkish airspace, and released recordings of the warnings. The surviving navigator said in Russian media that he heard no warnings.
Briefing reporters live from Baghdad, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren lauded Turkey as “great partners to us” in fighting ISIS, from hosting U.S. warplanes to supporting moderate Syrian rebels.
“We flatly reject any notion that the Turks are somehow working with ISIL,” Warren said. “That is preposterous.”
He added that “any thought” that the Turkish government would deal or collaborate with ISIS is “completely untrue.”
“The oil smuggling that goes on in this region has gone on for decades,” he said, adding that “we’re going to continue to keep pressure on ISIL’s illicit oil capabilities” such as strikes on oil tankers.
Warren confirmed that Russia’s s-400 missile system is deployed and operational in Assad-controlled territory in Syria. Asked if that was affecting coalition airstrikes over Syria, the colonel said the air defense system “has no impact on our mission.”
“We’re aware of them but we’re not going to let them affect our operations,” he said, adding they “expect Russia will continue to abide by the memorandum of understanding.”
While Russia says it’s targeting ISIS, Warren said “their actions say something else.”
“Everything they are doing is to support Assad, to keep Assad in power,” he added, stressing that every day Russia continues its current focus is “another day that Syrian civilans, citizens of Syria, will suffer under the boot of Bashar al-Assad.”
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the United States is “deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL” in the region.
“These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders,” he said. “This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations in Syria. That creates a virtual — virtuous cycle of better intelligence, which generates more targets, more raids, more momentum.”
Those raids, Carter added, “will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focused on defending its borders and building the ISF’s own capability.”
Asked about mission creep today, Warren confirmed “more Americans will be coming here to Iraq and some of them will be conducting raids here in Iraq and Syria.”
But, he emphasized, “this is not a major ground combat operation.”
“We’re talking double-digit number of personnel” for “precise,” “surgical” operations, he said.
Asked whether the 50 special operation forces President Obama announced weeks ago would be deployed to Syria have arrived, Warren said information wouldn’t be released that could “put them at greater amount of risk.”