Turkey will not move on Raqqa alone: Erdoğan

Turkey will not move on Raqqa alone: Erdoğan

Turkey will not move on Raqqa alone: Erdoğan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an interview in New York City, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS photo

Turkey supports plans to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) out of its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa and it would not act alone in any such operation, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated. 

Talking to Reuters in New York, where he will attend and give a speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations, Erdoğan said Turkey supported plans to drive ISIL out of its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa together with the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition forces.

“Turkey will not act unilaterally to liberate Raqqa. We will get involved in actions taken by the [U.S.-led] coalition forces,” said Erdoğan on Sept. 20.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour on Sept. 20 that the Syrian city of al-Bab, an ISIL stronghold 40 kilometers south of the Turkish border, and Raqqa, the militant group’s self-declared capital, would be the next targets to recapture from ISIL.

One day prior to Çavuşoğlu’s remarks, Erdoğan had said al-Bab was the next target within the scope of the anti- ISIL operation that Turkey launched around one month ago. 

Çavuşoğlu noted the significance of retaking Raqqa in the fight against ISIL, saying that if the terror group is cleared from those areas - which correspond to nearly 5,000 square kilometers - a “safe zone” could be established for Syrian refugees.

Turkey has long argued for the need for a “safe zone” or a “no-fly” zone along its Syrian border, with the aim of clearing out ISIL militants and stemming a wave of migration that has fuelled tensions in Europe. 

But Western allies have so far balked at the idea, saying it would require a significant ground force and planes to patrol, marking a major commitment in such a crowded battlefield.

Çavuşoğlu said European leaders supported this proposal but the U.S. was still considering it.

Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation on Aug. 24, with its own troops and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces, the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It aimed to rid northern Syria, with which Turkey has a long border, of ISIL, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), which Ankara says are terrorist offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Daesh and the YPG ... are the main source of threat,” Erdoğan told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.

“We have been patient ... We have not deployed all of our troops to Syria ... with the moderate opposition Jerablus was freed,” he added, referring to the liberation of Jarablus from ISIL in the first two days of the Euphrates Shield operation. 

‘Al-Assad cannot be part of transitional period’

Commenting on the Syrian war, Erdoğan said no lasting peace could be achieved in Syria without the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. Turkey is one of the main supporters of rebels fighting to overthrow al-Assad and hosts around 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

“The future of Syria should be determined by its own people ... Why is this killer [al-Assad] being backed by some states?” Erdoğan said.

“Al-Assad cannot be part of any transitional period ... the world should find a solution that does not involve al-Assad ... Syria’s territorial integrity should be respected by other countries,” he added.

Al-Assad is supported by Russia, Iran and Arab Shiite militias, while Sunni rebels seeking to unseat him are backed by Turkey and Gulf Arab states.