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MIDEAST >Turkey will be part of Raqqa operation if allies are sincere: Erdoğan

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Ankara wants to work with its allies to capture the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) bastion of Raqqa in Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Feb. 28.

However, Erdoğan once again rejected any involvement by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers as terrorist groups.

“If our allies are really sincere, we tell them: We will act with you so long as we cleanse Raqqa from Daesh and give it back to its original owners,” Erdoğan said at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport before leaving for Pakistan, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.

The United States has used the YPG militia as its force on the ground in Syria despite fierce opposition from Turkey, which has repeatedly called on the U.S. to stop supporting the group.  

Erdoğan said Ankara clearly told Washington it would never cooperate with the PYD or YPG.

“It is certainly not possible for us to agree with or act together with the PYD or YPG,” he said. “One cannot say there are good terrorists and bad terrorists, and we will never try to use one terrorist group against another.”

Last August, the Turkish army launched a military campaign inside Syria, backing opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters to remove ISIL and the Syrian Kurdish militia from its border.

Compared to the lightning advance at the beginning of its Euphrates Shield Operation, the Turkish army sustained increasing casualties to capture al-Bab.

The strategic town, just 25 kilometers south of the Turkish border, was the jihadists’ last stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.

On Feb. 24, the Turkish military said it had completely taken al-Bab from ISIL with the help of allied Syrian rebels.

Erdoğan, who met with Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar on Feb. 27, said the al-Bab operation was “completed,” dealing ISIL a “very serious toll,” with more than 3,000 of its militants killed. 

“But this doesn’t mean the process is over,” he said, adding that if Ankara reached an agreement with coalition forces, steps would be taken in Raqqa and Manbij, currently controlled by the PYD.

“Now it is time for Manbij, which belongs to the Arabs, not the PYD or YPG,” Erdoğan said.

“We told this to our American friends. PYD and YPG should move to the east of the Euphrates; the area should be left to the locals of Manbij,” he added.

Erdoğan said Turkey was also talking to Moscow because “our solidarity with Russia is also important.”

February/28/2017

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