US fully coordinated with Turkey in post-Raqqa phase: Envoy McGurk

(left to right) McGurk, Mattis and Dunford at the Pentagon press conference on 19 May.

Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) said the US is “fully coordinated on with Turkey and particular in the post-Raqqa phase” during a Pentagon press conference on 19 May.

McGurk attended the press conference with Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis and US Chief of Staff General Dunford.

US coordinating with Turkey for post-Raqqa

Special presidential envoy McGurk, just back from a visit to Syria, Iraq and Jordan said that the US is “fully coordinated on with Turkey and particular the post-Raqqa phase.”

“We cannot defeat ISIS without Turkey and I consult with our colleagues there all the time. There are talks right now in Geneva about the political way ahead in Syria because as we’re prosecuting the military campaign, I think there’s a parallel diplomatic track of course for the incredibly complex situation in Syria.  That’s something that we are fully coordinated with on Turkey and particular the post-Raqqa phase, which I talked about stabilization.  That is something where we’ll very closely coordinated with Turkey.

“So quick answer to your question, we can’t do this without Turkey.  We work with them every single day.  We have some differences, as we do with every coalition partner, but they’re very close allies and we consult with them all the time,” concluded McGurk.

McGurk’s comments are likely to worry the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is spearheading the assault on Raqqa and has formed a civilian council to administer the city following IS’ defeat.

Ankara has rejected the 50,000 majority Kurdish-Arab force on the grounds that it is led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it claims is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy. Turkish officials have appealed to the US – unsuccessfully – to use Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups to capture and administer Raqqa.

The YPG has blasted Turkey for having an anti-Kurdish policy in the region and said its recent lethal airstrikes on the group have been in support of IS and delayed the Raqqa operation.

Arming of SDF

Meanwhile General Dunford during the conference was asked whether “the decision at the end of the Obama administration to hold off on arming the Kurds and let the Trump administration make that decision, had any effect or delaying the assault on Raqqa?”

Dunford responded, “The only delay was in — in our providing equipment to the Syrian Democratic Forces so they could go into the fight.  But we were prepared for this decision.  Had stockpiled equipment in the event that President Trump made the decision that he did.  And we’ve been very quickly able to field that equipment to the Syrian Democratic Forces without an operational pause that is without a delay in seizing Raqqa.”

When another reporter reminded General Dunford that he had just said that they “have already started arming the SDF,” Dunford replied; “No, I didn’t.  If I did — if I did, I misspoke.  If I did, I misspoke. We’ve been stockpiling equipment.  We’re prepared to do that.”

“We haven’t started doing that — to my knowledge.  It should happen here very soon,” added Dunford.

Fallout with Turkey

When asked to provide an assessment “about the fall out or any fall out with Turkey” because of the arming of the SDF, General Dunford replied; “We did have a different perspective on the best way to seize Raqqa. In our view, the only option that was viable was with the Syrian Democratic Forces and we are now taking place — taking measures on the ground to mitigate their concerns. For example, weapons getting into the hands of the PKK or moving into Turkey and we’ve taken steps to make sure that the Turks have transparency on — on what we’re doing and measures to take place that the equipment that we’re providing to the SDF is appropriate, only for operations in Raqqa and that it doesn’t find its way someplace else.”