Washington and Ankara are ready to work together to push Islamic State jihadists out of their de facto capital of Raqa in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in comments published today.
Erdogan said he had agreed with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in China to do “what is necessary” to drive IS out of Raqa.
“Raqa is the most important centre of Daesh,” Erdogan told Turkish journalists onboard his plane as he returned from China, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
“Obama wants to do something together especially on the issue of Raqa,” he said. “I said there would be no problem from our perspective.”
“I said ‘our soldiers should come together and discuss, then what is necessary will be done’,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet daily.
Without giving further details, he said: “What can be done will become clear after the discussions.”
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were pushed out of Raqa, which lies on the Euphrates River, in 2013, making it the first provincial capital in Syria to fall out of government control.
IS rapidly infiltrated the city, which is strategically located near the Turkish border, and declared a caliphate in 2014.
Ousting IS from the city would be a turning point in the conflict and mark a huge blow to the jihadists.
Erdogan’s comments came two weeks after Turkey launched an ambitious operation inside Syria, sending tanks and special forces to back up Syrian opposition fighters and cleanse its frontier from IS jihadists and Kurdish militia.
Ankara-backed rebels seized the town of Jarabulus from IS militants within hours on the first day of the operation and Turkey says jihadists have now been removed from the entire border area.
But Turkey yesterday sustained its biggest loss of life in the operation to date, with three soldiers killed in an IS rocket attack on their tanks.
With the offensive still pressing on, the Turkish army said six more villages south of the town of Al-Rai had been retaken from IS jihadists yesterday, in a statement carried by state-run news agency Anadolu.
Yet it remains unclear if the Syrian rebels backed by Turkey will proceed further south to take Al-Bab from IS jihadists and then Raqa itself, or to what extent the operation has US support.
Turkey has been alarmed by US support for the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara sees as a “terrorist” group linked to its own Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging a bloody campaign against the Turkish state.