Turkey Concerned as Syrian Kurds Press Toward ISIS-Held Raqqa

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
November 8, 2016 Updated: November 8, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey—Turkey’s top diplomat said Tuesday that Washington has promised Ankara that U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces will only be involved in a siege of the ISIS terrorist group’s stronghold of Raqqa in Syria but would not enter the city itself, once it is freed of ISIS militants.

The remarks by Mevlut Cavusoglu reflect Turkey’s concerns over the expanding ground that Kurdish fighters have gained in Syria as they battle ISIS. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be a terror organization, saying it’s an extension of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels.

A U.S.-backed campaign is underway in Syria to take the city of Raqqa — the ISIS groups de facto capital — from the militants. The fight is taking place under the banner of the predominantly Kurdish alliance known as the Syria Democratic Forces. On Monday, the Kurdish-led fighters made small advances in villages north of Raqqa.

The SDF enjoys the backing of several Western militaries and is recognized by the U.S. as the most effective force fighting against the extremists, but its differences with Turkey as well as other Syrian groups could complicate the campaign.

Speaking in Ankara, Cavusoglu told reporters that he hoped the U.S. would keep its promise, but noted that Washington had also pledged earlier that Syrian Kurdish fighters would withdraw from the town of Manbij, which has not happened so far.

Cavusoglu said that during U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunfords’ last visit to Turkey, the Americans said the Syrian Kurdish fighters “will only have a role in encircling Raqqa and will absolutely not enter the city.”

“We hope that this will be the case and we expect that our partners keep their promises,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials.

Cavusoglu also said that Turkey prefers that “local” Arab forces enter the city, backed by U.S.-led coalition and possibly including Turkish ground troops.

“We still have weeks to the Raqqa operation,” Cavusoglu said. “Our advice is for the local forces to be supported by our special forces.”

The residents of Raqqa would not welcome Kurdish forces, the Turkish minister also suggested. If “terrorists enter into the city … we should not force the people to choose between two evils.”