The Obama administration wanted the incoming Trump administration to sign off on a Pentagon plan to retake ISIS stronghold Raqqa by arming Syrian Kurdish forces because the operation would likely happen after Trump took office, according to former senior Obama administration and defense officials.
Two former senior administration officials said it was retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who rejected such a move, telling the Obama team that the Trump team first wanted to conduct its own review of an ISIS strategy.
One former US defense official explained to CNN the Obama administration offered to green light arming the Kurds during the transition in order to spare Trump the fallout with Ankara. At the time, this official had the impression Trump’s people vetoed it because they wanted to do their own strategic review. The official did not speak to Flynn’s role in this.
Prior to Flynn making this decision, the Flynn Intel Group received $530,000 in payments from a Turkish-owned company based in the Netherlands and in March registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, acknowledging that the work may have benefited the Turkish government, according to foreign agent registration paperwork filed with the department.
Flynn’s firm was not compensated directly by the Turkish government. Flynn Intel had a contract with a Dutch firm, Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by a prominent Turkish businessman Kamil Ekim Alptekin.
Alptekin, the chair of the semi-official Turkish-American Business Council helped organize Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s 2015 visit to Washington. In an email to CNN, Alptekin said that his firm works to strengthen “the transatlantic relationship and Turkey’s future in that alliance.”
McClatchy newspapers was first to report that Flynn opposed the military operation to the Obama administration after recently lobbying for a Turkish owned firm.
The decision to arm Syrian Kurds was something even the Obama administration struggled with in order to save the fragile US-Turkey relationship. Two Kurdish allies of the US – the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces – are enemies of Turkey.
The Pentagon finally announced last week that Trump had authorized the limited arming of Syrian Kurds to help in the fight against ISIS in Raqqa, despite strong opposition from US NATO ally Turkey.
A current senior defense official told CNN there was no delay in the military planning or operations to isolate Raqqa and continue to train local fighters. The official did not speak to Flynn’s actions.