Turkey to clear ISIL from Raqqa pending agreement with US, coalition: Erdoğan
GAZİANTEPTurkey will clear the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Raqqa if an agreement is reached with the United States and the U.S.-led coalition fighting the jihadist group, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
“We will also clear Raqqa of the herd of killers called Deash if we come to terms with the U.S. and the coalition,” said Erdoğan at a rally in the southeastern province of Gaziantep on Feb. 19, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
He said the Turkish army and Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels were conducting successful battles in the northern Syrian city of al-Bab and that Raqqa was the next target.
Turkey and FSA rebels have been trying to capture al-Bab from ISIL since December last year as part of its ongoing Euphrates Shield operation, which was launched on Aug. 24, 2016, in order to clear the border with Syria of terrorist organizations.
Since the beginning of the operation, Turkish troops have experienced the highest number of fatalities in al-Bab.
Erdoğan’s remarks came one day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Feb. 18 that Turkey would be part of an operation to liberate Raqqa, though not directly, if a deal with U.S.-led coalition forces could be reached.
“We will not be directly part of 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 “local forces, civil insurgents, Free Syrian Army and other militia” would go be in the forefront as one group while “we will be in the back,” adding that the U.S. and Turkey would have a military presence in the Raqqa operation.
Yıldırım raised the issue of the fight against ISIL in a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence later in the day and said Turkey and the U.S. must take a joint stance in the effort, a statement issued by the Turkish prime minister’s office said on Feb. 18.
No mention of the Raqqa operation was made in the statement.
Pence told Yıldırım that they wanted to make a new start with the latter as Turkey-U.S. relations hit a bumpy road during the last months of the previous U.S. administration, the statement added.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a U.S.-backed militia that mostly comprises Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and some Arab rebels, 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 to 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 befit a friendship,” said Yıldırım.
“I believe the new U.S. administration will take this into consideration,” he said, adding that he would broach the topic later with Pence.