If the Syrian war’s final act was not already bedeviled with a surfeit of actors, 2,500 Chinese elite troops are on the way to Syria fight Chinese Uighur Islamist extremists and their Turkish-backed plan to set up an autonomous enclave in the rebel-held Idlib province of northern Syria. This is reported exclusively by DEBKA Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources.
For some years, Chinese Uighur Islamist extremists have been fighting in Syria. They belong to a violent separatist movement that seeks to establish an Islamic Uighur state in the Chinese province of Xinxiang, which they have dubbed “Eastern Islamic Turkistan.”
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that China has secured permission from Damascus to send over 2,500 elite troops from two elite units: the “Siberian Tigers,” which is the special Navy force from northeast China’s Shenyang Military Region and affiliated to counterterrorism forces; and the Lanzhou Military Region’s “Night Tiger” Special Forces Units. (The US equivalents of these units would be Seals or Green Berets and maybe the 82nd Airborne Division.)
According to sources in Beijing, they are coming to Syria to fight the Uighar Movement of Eastern Islamic Turkistan, which is regarded by China as a grave national security threat, along with ISIS and Turkey’s MIT national Intelligence agency. That MIT helped the Chinese Islamists move from China to Syria through Turkey has sparked high tension between Beijing and Ankara and raised concerns that Turkey may also have designs on Xinxiang itself
Xinjiang borders eight nations: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and is therefore a convenient conduit for terrorist movements through the world and inside China itself.
Beijing’s extraordinary decision to step into the final stages of the Syrian war was authorized two years ago by the National Congress under China’s first anti-terrorism law. It permitted the People’s Liberation Army to conduct counterterrorism missions on foreign soil.
But Beijing became alarmed by the summit that took place last week in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Vladimir Putin, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, and the decisions taken there for Idlib, the last part of Syria still dominated by rebel forces, predominantly the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, al Qaeda’s Syrian branch. Putin and Rouhani decided to pass this hot potato to Erdogan, and he decided that rather then sending Turkish troops to fight there, he would come to terms with the rebel leaders.
Since Turkish intelligence had already established ties with the Uighurs, the Turkish president was ready to give them a self-ruling enclave in Idlib province. China decided to deploy a large contingent of special forces to Syria to pre-empt this plan, which was seen as giving the Chinese Islamists a new base of operations for terrorism.
According to our sources, the Russian president almost certainly was in the know about the Chinese plan and may have approved it.