Turkey will be part of Raqqa op if deal reached, says Turkish PM
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım speaks during a rally in Düsseldorf, Germany, on Feb 18, / AA PhotoTurkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Feb. 18 that Turkey will be part of an operation to liberate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) bastion of Raqqa, though not directly, if a deal with U.S.-led coalition forces can be reached.
“We will not be directly inside an operation [on Raqqa], we will provide tactical support, of course if we agree in principle,” state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Yıldırım as saying on Feb. 18 in Germany, where he went to attend the Munich Security Conference.
“The opportunities and capabilities are being reviewed,” he said.
Yıldırım said that “local forces, civil insurgents, Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other militia” would go in the forefront as one group and “we will be in the back,” adding that the U.S. and Turkey would have military presence at the Raqqa operation.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a U.S.-backed militia that is mostly comprised of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and some Arab rebels, have launched a multi-phased operation to liberate Raqqa of ISIL militants at the end of last year.
Turkey regards the YPG, which is the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), as a terror organization due to its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Ankara objects the involvement of the YPG and PYD in efforts to liberate ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria.
“You know, we had a proposal to clear Deash from Raqqa after [doing the same for] al-Bab. We told them [the U.S.] that it is not right to act with the PYD and YPG, which are extensions of the PKK, and a terror organization should not be chosen over another one. This does not fit inside a friendship,” said Yıldırım.
“I believe the new U.S. administration will take this into consideration,” he said. “I will tell this once again to [U.S. Vice President Mike] Pence,” Yıldırım said, referring to a scheduled meeting later on Feb. 18 with Pence in Munich on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Turkey is trying to capture al-Bab in northern Syria from ISIL since December last year as part of its Euphrates Shield operation, which was launched on Aug. 24, 2016.
“The U.S. has an operation plan for [Raqqa] in any case. We are talking about how this plan will be implemented,” said Yıldırım.
He also said that he hoped the U.S. would not opt for the YPG and PYD for the Raqqa operation, or “there will be serious problems in relations with the U.S.”
Yıldırım also said that he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a meeting earlier in the day that Turkey could include Germany to the operation on Raqqa.