US, Russian, Turkish military chiefs meet in Antalya to discuss Syria, Iraq (PHOTOS)
The top brass are expected to discuss security issues in Syria and Iraq, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement.
The meeting is being attended by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford Jr., Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Valery Gerasimov and Turkey's military chief of staff General Hulusi Akar.
On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that a small number of US troops had been sent to the northern Syrian town of Manbij to deter conflict between the US-backed Kurdish forces and Turkey-backed rebels.
US troops were first spotted in Manbij on Saturday, following reports of a deal between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian government to hand over some 20 villages in a zone between Manbij and Al-Bab, recently taken by Turkish-backed forces.
The US-backed SDF is mostly comprised of Kurdish militia, considered terrorists by Turkey. Washington has supported the SDF as a proxy force on the ground against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) independent of the Syrian Army, which is supported by Russia and Iran.
Last week, the US-backed group struck a deal with Russia to turn over up to 20 villages west of Manbij to the Syrian Army, creating a buffer zone between the Kurdish-dominated militia and the Turks. While implementation of the deal has been delayed, around five villages were handed over on Monday, Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, told Reuters.
Last month, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis told a NATO meeting in Brussels that the US is not ready to collaborate militarily with Russia against IS or other threats.
“Russia's aggressive actions have violated international law and are destabilizing,” he noted.
While Washington is mulling over whether to work with its former Cold War rival, “Russia is going to have to prove itself first,” Mattis said. “The point about Russia is they have to live by international law just like we expect all nations on this planet to do.”
Reaffirming its long-term commitment to resuming dialogue, Moscow has invited NATO’s top leadership and member states’ officials to take part in the annual Moscow Security Conference, scheduled to take place April 26-27.
On Friday, Russian and NATO officials held a rare conversation amid suspended cooperation. NATO Military Committee General Petr Pavel spoke on the phone with the chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov. They discussed restoring military communications between Russia and the bloc, as well as devising mutual steps to “decrease tensions” in Europe.
Gerasimov also reiterated Russia’s concerns over “significantly increased military activity near Russian borders.”