Turkey ready to join US in assault on ISIS’ Syrian capital Raqqa – Erdogan

Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province. © Reuters
On the sidelines of the G20 summit in China, Turkish President Erdogan told the press it “would not be a problem” to join the United States in its campaign to eradicate Islamic State terrorists firmly established in Raqqa, their Syrian stronghold.

The collaboration was first suggested by outgoing US President Barack Obama, and President Tayyip Erdogan agreed. “Obama wants to do some things together concerning Raqqa in particular,” he was quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper as saying. “We stated that would not be a problem from our perspective. We said, ‘Let our soldiers come together, whatever is necessary will be done,’” he said.

The discussion took place on the heels of the G20 talks in China, which included leaders from China and Russia, with whom the Turkish president also held meetings.

Ankara sees the opportunity for cooperation with the US as a chance to kill two birds with one stone that will both hit Islamic State (IS formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Kurdish fighters, who they also consider terrorists. Turkey has recently launched an incursion 40 kilometers into Syria in order to create a buffer zone between the Kurdish-held areas to the east and west of Islamic State’s) base in Raqqa.

Concrete proposals for action will have to be worked out separately, Erdogan added. “But at this stage we have to show our presence in the region,” he said. “We do not have the chance to take a backward step. If we take a backward step terror groups like Daesh, PKK, PYD and YPG will settle there,” stressed the Turkish leader, who considers the Kurdish forces fighting IS in Syria to also be terrorists.

Washington does not share Ankara’s view, however, and has carried out joint operations with Kurdish YPG fighters, making considerable gains in Syria, including the recent seizure of the Syrian city of Manbij.

The Pentagon also expects the Kurds to get onboard with the Raqqa operation, according to Reuters.

When asked if ongoing US cooperation with the Kurds would be a stumbling block, Erdogan said he didn’t consider it to be a problem, pointing to Turkey’s latest operation (Euphrates Shield), which has gone smoothly so far. “We worked very comfortably in al-Rai. We did so in Jarablus, and are still doing so,” the Turkish leader said, adding that a joint plan of action with the US had been worked out last year on the sidelines of the last G20 summit, which was held in Antalya, Turkey. That plan allegedly involved an incursion zone in Syria of 40-95 kilometers.

The volatile Turkish-Syrian border was cleared of IS forces on September 4.

Erdogan indicated that Iraq is also of interest to Ankara, particularly as “the PKK wants to find a place for itself there.”

Whatever happens in the triangle of US-Kurdish-Turkish relations, the Kurds have recently vowed to defend their lands in northeast Syria against the Turks by whatever means necessary, while reportedly expressing concern that US support for their cause has been on the wane lately. Nonetheless, in an exclusive interview to The Independent on September 3, a senior Kurdish official said they are ready to fight “to the death.”

The Kurds are still considered by the Pentagon to be the US’ most effective ally in fighting IS, but they now believe they’ve fallen prey to international double standards, according to the interview.