Coalition was aware of evacuation of ISIL fighters: UK ambassador

Coalition was aware of evacuation of ISIL fighters: UK ambassador

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Coalition was aware of evacuation of ISIL fighters: UK ambassador

The anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition forces “knew” about the evacuation of the terrorist group’s fighters from Raqqa, U.K. Ambassador to Ankara Richard Moore has said.

Moore referred to “certain local elements of the coalition” cooperating with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that were aware of the evacuation, referring indirectly to the U.S.

The U.K. “was not part of it,” he said at a meeting with the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, adding that local elements made the decision on the ground, “against the wishes of the coalition.”

“Clearly we are there in Syria and Iraq to defeat Daesh. Having Daesh members able to escape, particularly if some of them are able to threaten Turkey, the U.K. and other places, is deeply unwelcome,” Moore said.

“At the end of the day the actors that are involved inside Syria make their own decisions on these types of things,” he said.

“The coalition did know about it at the time but they felt unable to stop it. Their judgement was these decisions were taken by groups on the ground. They were not in the position to stop it, even if their view were very clear that they did not support it. The coalition in contact with the SDF knew about it in advance,” Moore added.

He said he was not aware of whether Turkey was briefed about it beforehand, adding that this was “unlikely” as Turkey is not “with those coalition elements that are side-by-side with the SDF.”

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by YPG fighters that Ankara sees as organically linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), announced the liberation of Raqqa from ISIL on Oct. 17.

However, the BBC subsequently reported that a deal was struck between the SDF and ISIL to help thousands of fighters, including foreign fighters, and their families escape from Raqqa along with their weapons and ammunition.

‘S-400 is Turkey’s sovereign decision’

Meanwhile, speaking about Turkey’s controversial purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, Moore said it is “Turkey’s sovereign decision.”

“But clearly there will be issues about integration [with NATO] as it is a Russian system,” he added.

Moore, who is due to depart from his post soon, said he does not agree that Turkey is drifting away from NATO, dismissing such suggestions as “absurd.”

He also welcomed Turkey’s engagement with Russia and Iran as part of efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, describing dialogue between the three guarantors as “useful.”

Touching on recent controversy at a NATO exercise facility, at which the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were identified as “enemies” of NATO, Moore described it as a “disgraceful” incident.

He also said that Turkey has “the absolute right to pursue people involved in the July 2016 coup attempt, and indeed pursue people who are members of the Gülen organization that tried to infiltrate into institutions,” while warning about the danger of disproportionate practices under the State of Emergency.

“We have expressed worries about the scale of the crackdown. We have expressed worries about some aspects of the implementation of the state of emergency. We have expressed our worries about freedom of expression and the fact that too many journalists and MPs are in jail,” Moore stated.

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