Turkey, US seek new ground in ISIL fight
Sevil Erkuş - ANKARAThe United States wants to ramp up joint efforts with Turkey to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, but expects Ankara to be part of integrated efforts with Iraq, according to the U.S. secretary of defense.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter conducted several meetings with Turkish officials on Oct. 21 amid escalating tensions between Turkey and Iraq over the fight against ISIL. He held meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Defense Minister Fikri Işık.
Carter told Işık that they wanted Turkey to participate in an anti-ISIL operation in Iraq and Syria, according to Turkish sources who wished to remain anonymous.
It is reasonable that Turkey is interested in developments in Syria and Iraq, sources familiar with the talks told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that Washington supported Ankara in taking steps to ensure its border security.
Although Turkey and the U.S. occasionally have differences, both countries always have a consensus on principles, and objecting to all kinds of terrorism is among those principles, Carter told the Turkish minister, adding that methods toward the aim could vary but that two allies could overcome those differences through joint efforts.
The U.S. official welcomed the liberation of Dabiq in Syria from ISIL in an offensive by Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters supportedA by the Turkish army. The U.S. official earlier sent an appreciation letter to Işık after Turkish forces and Syrian opposition drove out the jihadist group from the town.
Carter also welcomed Turkey’s efforts to host millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq, sources said.
Ankara urges US to force YPG withdrawal
Ankara again urged the U.S. to force the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to withdraw to east of the Manbij region as promised before.
Elaborating on his meeting with Carter, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recalled a promise given by the U.S. on the YPG withdrawal from Minbij in Syria. “The U.S. Secretary of Defense showed that he is behind his words and he confirmed that no YPG/PYD elements will be left in Minbij,” he said.
Yıldırım also indicated that he expressed Turkey’s opposition to the U.S.’ involvement with the YPG and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party. “We regard the YPG and PYD as similar to the PKK. Supplying arms to these forces and strategic alliances with them in the fight against ISIL is a great mistake. We express that,” he said.
The YPG has received support from the international coalition due to its successes in the war against ISIL in northern Syria.
Raqqa offensive was on the agenda
A planned offensive for Raqqa in Syria was also on the agenda of ministers, as Carter and Işık discussed the possible contribution of Turkey to a military operation into ISIL’s capital, sources said.
Both sides agreed to maintain frequent communication on the full range of mutual interests, including close coordination and continued transparency in the coalition effort to deal ISIL a lasting defeat, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement after the visit.
US urges reconciliation between Ankara and Baghdad
Washington has also been expending efforts to ensure reconciliation between Ankara and Baghdad on Turkey’s presence in Iraq and amid the Mosul offensive against ISIL, with Carter raising the issue in his meetings in Ankara, diplomatic sources told the Daily News.
Respect for Iraq’s sovereignty is an “important principle,” Carter told reporters on his plane en route to Turkey, AFP reported. “We’ve long had discussions with everyone about this – about respect for Iraqi sovereignty in the course of the conduct of the counter-ISIL campaign,” he said. “It’s very important for all the members of the counter-ISIL campaign to participate in that integrated way. Will I be talking with the Turks about that? Absolutely.”
Carter said the capture of Dabiq was an “important objective” of the campaign.
“The Turks were carrying the burden of the battle here and did spectacularly well,” he said. “We will be working with them to consolidate that border region, long an objective of theirs and ours, and a very important one in the counter-ISIL campaign.”
Carter declined to comment on Turkish strikes on the YPG, saying he had few details on the incident amid questions about the casualty total and whether or not the Kurdish forces were ones backed by the U.S.
US will continue to be a strong ally of Turkey
The U.S. will continue to support democracy in Turkey, Carter said during his visit to damaged sections of the Turkish Parliament due to attacks during the July 15 coup attempt.
“I would like to express my condolences. Those people fought for democracy and freedom and the whole world, including the U.S., watched the images. The whole world saw the heroes of this horrible incident,” Carter told reporters on Oct. 21 during his visit to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM).
“In this context, we will continue to be a strong ally of Turkey. We will continue to support democracy in Turkey,” he added.
The U.S. Secretary is scheduled to go to the United Arab Emirates for meetings with Emirati leaders following his visit to Turkey.