After last week’s visit by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the USA’s highest ranking military officer, Joseph Dunford, will meet with Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar at NATO’s Incirlik airbase in the south of Turkey, Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik announced. Isik also said that they expected the US to decide on whether it will conduct a joint operation with Turkey in Raqqa after this meeting.
Turkey, who has set its sights on Manbij and Raqqa after the fight for al-Bab is over, is hoping to convince the US that it is the force which the US should be working with on the ground in Syria.
Fikri Isik, who was talking to reporters while in Brussels for a NATO meeting of defence ministers, said, “this is going to be an important meeting. It will contain important discussions on whether a joint operation to liberate Raqqa can be done. A decision on this will come very soon. However, as far as I can see, the US has not given its decision yet. We believe that this meeting will have an impact on the US’s final decision. The US hasn’t made a decision on whether it will conduct its Raqqa operation with the PYD [Syrian Kurdish party] or not.”
Turkey has been critical of the US for working with Syria’s Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group as it deems the People’s Protection Units (YPG) an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The US rejects this claim and continues to support the YPG both on the ground and from the air in its fight against IS.
The Turkish defence minister reiterated his government’s desire to move on to Manbij and Raqqa saying, “The PKK’s Syrian extension [the YPG] must leave Manbij by the time the al-Bab operation is over. We are working closely with the US in this regard. However, we haven’t attained the desired result until now. But Turkey has two priorities after the al-Bab operation. One of these is Manbij, the other is Raqqa.”