Top Turkish, US soldiers meet at İncirlik to discuss anti-terror fight
U.S. Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford held a meeting on Feb. 17 with Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar at the İncirlik air base to discuss an offensive to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
During the meeting, Akar informed his U.S. counterpart about the ongoing Euphrates Shield operation and said the northern Syrian town of al-Bab was largely taken under control, according to Turkish military sources.
Akar also highlighted the importance of the support by the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition in the fight against terrorism.
The two generals reiterated the consensus on the fight against the terror groups in the region, the sources said.
Turkey hopes the new U.S. administration under Donald Trump will change its policy of cooperation with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, calling instead for a joint operation between Ankara and Washington rather than using the Syrian Kurdish group to remove ISIL from its self-declared capital.
Defense Minister Fikri Işık said on Feb. 16 that Turkey and the U.S. would consider whether to conduct the Raqqa operation in tandem. “I don’t think the U.S. has taken a definite decision on this,” he added.
The top U.S. general made a visit to Ankara in November for talks with his Turkish counterpart, during which time Turkey proposed a plan for the Raqqa offensive with Syrian Arab elements supported by the Turkish Army.
Turkey is part of that anti-ISIL coalition but relations with NATO ally Washington have been strained by U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in the fight against ISIL. Ankara considers the YPG to be an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency against Turkish state for more than three decades.
Ankara had previously expressed alarm that the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were dominated by the YPG militia.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the next target for the Turkish offensive should be Raqqa, which has been partly dislodged from its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. The SDF, an alliance dominated by the YPG, is in the middle of a multi-phased operation to encircle Raqqa, backed by air strikes and special ground forces from the U.S.-led coalition.
Turkey has repeatedly said it would not support any operation that involved its fighters. Ankara wants the U.S. to continue the operation to capture Raqqa with Arab forces from the local region in Syria and not the YPG, and has pledged support to the Turkish army for the offensive on the ground.
As the Turkish army stages its own operation inside Syria backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to oust ISIL jihadists from the border area, it is also targeting YPG fighters in order to prevent them from uniting northern Syria’s three Kurdish cantons.
The Turkish leadership has vowed to target YPG fighters in Manbij if the Syrian Kurds do not retreat to the east of the Euphrates River, provided Turkey can first complete its offensive in al-Bab.