Turkey to US: Act over Syria’s Manbij or we’ll reconsider
The United States should act in order to fulfill its promise to make Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces leave Syria’s Manbij in line with Ankara’s request or Turkey would have to reconsider an operation there, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık said Feb. 22.
“One of the crucial aims of Turkey is to end the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] - PYD presence in Manbij. If the United States does not do so, Turkey will have to re-evaluate this operation,” Işık said on Feb. 22 in a televised interview.
Turkey does not want PYD forces to go to the west of the Euphrates River, agreeing with the U.S. that PYD forces would leave Manbij and retreat to the east of the Euphrates following the town’s liberation from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The full withdrawal has not yet been realized, according to Turkey.
“This is something that will affect the Raqqa operation. Our advice, as Turkey, is to do this with the right actors who will solve the problem permanently in Raqqa,” Işık said, noting that they might not need Turkish ground troops in the Raqqa offensive.
“We do not think Turkish troops will be needed much in the Raqqa operation,” he stated.
Işık said the U.S. was aiming to finalize its plans for the Syria offensive.
The new U.S. administration has closer perspective toward Turkey, compared to the previous Barack Obama administration, he said.
Elaborating on Turkey’s proposal to launch the Raqqa offensive with Arab elements instead of cooperating with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Işık stated that Washington was concerned of a possible delay in the Raqqa operation.
In his meeting with new U.S. Defense Minister James Mattis in Brussels, Işık stressed that he opposed the idea of uniting Syrian Kurdish cantons in northern Syria.
Less than 100 ISIL members left in al-Bab
Less than 100 ISIL jihadists were still holed up in al-Bab in northern Syria as part of Turkey’s ongoing Euphrates Shield operation, while half of the town was in the hands of Turkish troops and the Ankara-backed Syrian rebels, Işık said.
Elaborating on Russia’s relations with the PYD, he said Ankara did not welcome Moscow’s attitude on the issue. Although Turkey was speaking about its concerns regarding the group, which Ankara sees as offshoot of the PKK, “I can’t say they clearly understand us,” he stated.
On the ground, Turkish forces have killed at least 14 ISIL militants in northern Syria over the last 24 hours, the Turkish military stated on Feb. 22.
The General Staff said Turkey’s land and air forces targeted 110 ISIL sites as part of the Euphrates Shield operation.
Ground forces hit a total of 89 ISIL targets, including shelters, command control facilities, weapons and vehicles, the statement said. Turkish fighter jets, meanwhile, carried out 21 air strikes and destroyed 18 buildings used as shelters, two weapons depots and an armed vehicle, it added.
The Euphrates Shield operation began on Aug. 24, 2016, to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border using Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkish artillery and jets.