Turkey to discuss Manbij, Raqqa operations with international coalition
ANKARATurkey will advance to Manbij and Raqqa in Syria if Ankara reaches a consensus with coalition forces, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said Feb. 13.
His words came after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to move to other regions in Syria after Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters liberate the town of al-Bab from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“We can take a step for cleansing both Manbij and Raqqa if a consensus is reached with the international coalition,” Kurtulmuş told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
He stressed that Turkey did not “have eye on Syrian lands,” adding that Turkey had launched the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria because Turkish territorial security was under threat.
“We are not part of a proxy war. The operation was a result of a national security requirement,” he said.
Kurtulmuş reiterated that Ankara expected Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) elements to retreat to the east of Euphrates River, noting that it was unacceptable that the YPG would take over after ISIL gets kicked out of the region.
Erdoğan had earlier said the final goal of the Turkish intervention in northern Syria was to clear a 5,000 square-kilometer area of “safe zone,” vowing to press toward ISIL’s self-declared capital in the country, Raqqa.
“After al-Bab is over, the period following that will be Manbij and Raqqa,” Erdoğan told journalists on Feb. 12 before departing on an official visit to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Turkey has long advocated a “safe zone” for civilians in northern Syria cleared of ISIL militants and the YPG, but says such an area would need to be policed by a no-fly zone.
Erdoğan said he had discussed this with the United States and Russia, adding that Turkey was prepared to do the infrastructure work in the zone in order to help prevent migration from Syria and allow those who had fled to Turkey to return home.
Turkey’s intervention in al-Bab was not welcomed by the U.S.-led coalition forces as Ankara unilaterally took the decision to prevent YPG from advancing, which aims to bridge its de facto autonomous cantons in northern Syria.
The Turkish government has repeatedly criticized the coalition for not supporting the Turkish Armed Forces’ offensive in al-Bab.
The coalition forces did not lend support to Turkey’s intervention in al-Bab between Nov. 20 and Jan. 16, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said earlier.
In a Dec. 27 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. had supported Turkey’s efforts in Syria. “We have supported their efforts along the border to clear it of [ISIL]. We’re in dialogue with them about possible next steps we can take in terms of al-Bab … and we certainly don’t want to see them enter into al-Bab without sufficient support,” he said.