Turkey seeks role for military in Raqqa advance
Recep Tayyip Erdogan moves to build Syrian military co-operation with Vladimir Putin
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, where the two held talks on Syria. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/EPA
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to build co-operation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Friday over military operations in Syria, as Turkey attempts to create a border “safe zone” free of Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG militia.
Mr Erdogan, referring to Islamic State’s remaining stronghold, told a joint Moscow news conference with the Russian president: “Of course, the real target now is Raqqa.”
Turkey is seeking a role for its military in the advance on Raqqa, but the United States is veering towards enlisting the Kurdish YPG militia – something contrary to Ankara’s aim of banishing Kurdish fighters eastwards across the Euphrates river.
Turkey considers the YPG the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting an insurrection on Turkish soil for 30 years. Washington, like Ankara, considers the PKK a terrorist group, but it backs the YPG.
Russian-backed forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad are also operating in the north of the country, close to Turkish borders. Washington and Moscow are concerned fast-moving military developments could lead to serious clashes between Turkish forces and the YPG.
“It should now be accepted that a terrorist organisation cannot be defeated with another one,” Mr Erdogan said, referring to the enlistment of YPG by the United States to fight Islamic State, also known as Isis.
“As a country that has been battling terror for 35 years, terrorist organisations like Daesh [Islamic State], the YPG, Nusra Front and others are organisations we face at all times.
“We have kept all lines of communication open until now, and we will continue to do so from now on,” Mr Erdogan said.
“Whether it is Turkey or Russia, we are working in full co-operation militarily in Syria. Our chiefs of staff, foreign ministers, and intelligence agencies co-operate intensely.”