Turkey ready to join US in fight against Isis in Raqqa, says Erdogan
Ankara and Washington oppose al-Assad but sharply disagree on Syria’s Kurdish militias
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan: The US and Turkey have previously announced ambitious joint policies concerning Syria that failed to materialise as disagreements emerged. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggested that his country was ready to carry out a joint operation with the United States in northern Syria to fight Islamic State in its de facto capital, Raqqa, Turkish news media reported on Wednesday.
The move would represent a major escalation in the two countries’ interventions in Syria. But there was no immediate comment from US officials. In the past, the US and Turkey have announced ambitious new joint policies concerning Syria that failed to materialise as disagreements emerged over what had been agreed to.
An operation in Raqqa would entail an expansion of co-operation on Syria between Turkey and the United States, Nato allies whose relations have been strained over policies on Syria. Even though both countries nominally oppose Islamic State and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the US places a greater priority on defeating Islamic State. Turkey, at least until recently, was more intent on ousting Mr al-Assad. The countries also sharply disagree over Syria’s Kurdish militias, which Turkey sees as its main enemy in Syria, and the US sees as its most effective ground partner against the Islamic State, the group also known as Isis.
“Obama wants to do some things jointly concerning Raqqa,” Mr Erdogan told a group of journalists during his return flight from the G-20 summit meeting in China on Tuesday. “We said this would not be a problem from our perspective. Our soldiers should come together and discuss, then we will do what is necessary,” he said.
His comments came after two volatile weeks around the Syrian-Turkish border. Turkey plunged into Syria with ground forces for the first time, using tanks, artillery and air power to help a force comprising US- and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels seize a border area from Islamic State.
The development also opened the door to establishing what Turkey has long wanted – a safe zone inside the Syrian borders where Syrian refugees could gather and where the Syrian opposition could attempt to set up governance, presumably protected from air strikes launched by the Syrian government and its Russian allies.
On Wednesday, several hundred Syrian refugees crossed into Jarabulus, a town taken by the Turkish-backed rebels, covered with fanfare by the Turkish news media. Turkey is home to three million Syrian refugees, more than any other nation. But the safe zone plan, like the Raqqa plan, is an example of an ambitious-sounding US-Turkish proposal. The safe zone plan later become bedeviled by disagreements. Mr Erdogan said he was renewing his request for a no-fly zone over the newly acquired border zone, but the White House has brushed off the idea.
– (New York Times service)