US top general to visit Turkey amid PYD rift
BRUSSELSChairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Joseph Dunford will pay a visit to Turkey on Feb. 17 for discussions on the Raqqa offensive, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık has stated.
“We’ll asses if we can do the Raqqa operation together. What I see is that the U.S. has yet to decide on this issue. The upcoming days will be influential for the U.S. in making its final decision,” Işık told reporters on Feb. 16.
“If we want the Raqqa operation to be successful it should be carried out with Arab forces in the region, not the YPG,” he said, referring to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia.
Işık said he got the impression from meetings with U.S. officials that the new U.S. administration has a “more flexible” approach to Syria and is not insisting on the YPG being involved in the operation to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) out of its Raqqa stronghold.
“The new U.S. administration has a different approach to the issue. They are not insisting anymore that the operation should definitely be carried out with the YPG. They haven’t yet made up their minds,” he added.
Ankara hopes the YPG fighters will retreat from Manbij before Turkey has completed its offensive in al-Bab, Işık said, recalling that the Syrian Kurds have not yet withdrawn from the region but Turkey is ready to head to Manbij and Raqqa after the al-Bab offensive has ended.
Turkey strongly objects to Syrian Kurdish fighters’ participation in any operation to liberate Raqqa and it is pressing the U.S. to stop supporting Syrian Kurdish groups that Ankara considers to be “terrorists” because of their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
For his part, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued assurances that the U.S.-led coalition will provide more support to Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation during his first meeting with Işık late on Feb. 15 on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels, according to Turkish officials.
During the meeting, Işık repeated Ankara’s long-standing demand from the U.S. to cease its cooperation with the YPG, a Turkish Defense Ministry official stated.
“Anti-terror operations cannot succeed in this way. One terrorist organization cannot be preferred over another one,” he reportedly said.
At the NATO meeting in Brussels, Işık also met counterparts from Spain, Italy, the U.K. and France.
Meanwhile, a Syrian Kurdish leader said the Syrian Kurdish forces and their allies expect continued U.S. support for their war against ISIL in northern Syria and will fight Turkish forces if they advance towards Raqqa, ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria.
Ilham Ahmed, a co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spoke to Reuters from northeast Syria after returning from Washington, where she pressed the new United States administration for political and military support.
The U.S. sees the SDF, which is an alliance that comprises mainly of YPG and some Arab forces, as its main partner on the ground to fight ISIL.
“In order to eliminate Daesh, there will definitely be military aid,” Ahmed said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Meanwhile, countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - including the U.S., France, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia - will meet on Feb. 17 for the first time since Donald Trump took office, in a bid to seek common ground ahead of the key Syria talks in Geneva next week.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt ÇAvuşoğlu was to meet the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on late Feb. 17 on the sidelines of G20 gathering in Bonn, the first meeting after the latter's assignment.
SDF ‘ready for clashes’ with Turkey in Raqqa
Meanwhile, a Syrian Kurdish leader said that Syrian Kurdish forces and their allies expect continued U.S. support for their war against ISIL in northern Syria and will fight Turkish forces if they advance towards Raqqa, ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria.
Ilham Ahmed, a co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spoke to Reuters from northeast Syria after returning from Washington where she pressed the new United States administration for political and military support.
The U.S. sees the SDF, which is an alliance that comprises mainly of YPG and some Arab forces, as their main partner on the ground to fight ISIL.
"In order to eliminate Daesh, there will definitely be military aid," she said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL. Some U.S. officials also believed support could be increased, Ahmed said, describing her meetings as positive.
With air strikes and special ground forces from the U.S.-led coalition, the SDF alliance is in the middle of a multi-phased operation to encircle Raqqa, ISIL’s base of operations in Syria.
One of the Trump administration's major decisions will be whether to provide weapons to the YPG despite Turkish objections. The U.S. says weapons provided to the SDF are so far limited to its Arab elements.
Ahmed said her meetings indicated the SDF would receive continued, if not more, support from the United States.
In addition to meeting U.S. State Department officials and members of Congress, she met with foreign policy advisors to the Trump campaign and she plans to head back to Washington "as soon as possible.”
Turkey said this week that the final goal of its ongoing Euphrates Shield operation, which it launched mid-2016, into Syria was to cleanse a border region, including Raqqa, of both ISIL and YPG forces.
"This is unacceptable. Turkey will not be allowed" near stable areas where the SDF has driven out jihadists, said Ahmed.
"This will mean heightened tensions," she said. "If they attempt to, there will be clashes, of course."