Raqqa offensive will be delayed if cooperation with YPG continues: Turkish defense minister
Turkey has repeated its offer to the U.S. to jointly stage the long-anticipated Raqqa operation with the inclusion of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and including Arab forces within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Defense Minister Fikri Işık said on April 21.
Speaking to reporters about his meeting with his U.S. counterpart James Mattis in Washington last week, Işık suggested that the Raqqa offensive would be delayed if the U.S. cooperates with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) because local people would rather side with ISIL than the YPG over fear of losing their lands.
He warned against the risk of demographic change in the region, which he said would create “long-term instability” even if the offensive concluded with success.
He stressed that elements of the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), should not be part of the Raqqa operation.
“They [the U.S.] expressed to us that they will review this proposal again and re-evaluate it,” Işık said, adding that U.S. officials said they were aware of Ankara’s sensitivities in this regard.
“But of course we will only be able to see whether there is a reflection of this on the scene,” he said.
Asked about the “East Shield Army,” which has reportedly been established by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Işık said “Turkey is doing a lot of work at the point of not carrying out an operation with a terrorist organization. We are conducting our activities as a dynamic country in a dynamic region. In these works, Turkey is supporting an operation in which especially Arab elements are dominant, excluding the PYD-YPG elements.”
Turkey at ‘final stage’ with Russia over S-400 missile system
Meanwhile, Işık also said Turkey’s talks with Russia about the purchase of the S-400 air missile defense system have reached a “final stage,” although this does not mean a deal will be signed immediately.
Işık also told a news conference that NATO countries have not presented a “financially effective” offer on an alternative defense system. NATO member Turkey in 2015 cancelled a $3.4 billion tender for a long-range missile defense system that had been provisionally awarded to China.
Turkey then said it would consider developing a missile system locally, but that stance later shifted.
“It is clear that Turkey needs a missile defense system but NATO member countries have not presented an offer that is financially effective,” Işık said.
“Work on the S-400 has reached a final point. But the final stage does not mean ‘let’s sign a deal tomorrow morning,’” he added.
Işık said Turkey would not be able to integrate the S-400 into the NATO system.