Erdogan spox says no decisions on Syria's Raqqa operation yet

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10 March, 2017

Key to that decision is the role of Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish force known as the YPG. The Syrian regime has, so far, returned the favour.

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman McCain asked Army General Joseph Votel whether the U.S.is taking steps to try to avoid such conflict, Votel acknowledged that the risk of a clash existed and said: "To that end, we are trying to take actions to prevent that from occurring".

The Kurdish militia also handed over last week several villages in western Manbij to the Syrian army to serve as a buffer zone with the Turkish troops.

"The Syrian conflict would then morph into a much larger conflagration, spelling the end of peace talks and leading to Turkey's further isolation", warned Logoglu.

The Manbij Military Council, part of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), captured the area around Manbij from ISIS previous year.

Washington is mainly supporting an alliance led by Kurdish groups, who are considered terrorists by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey due to their links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), while groups backed by Ankara include Islamist factions accused of war crimes. The rising tensions between the Kurds and the Turks comes as the United States considers how best to retake Raqqa from ISIS, including to what extent the Kurds and Turkey should participate.

"If this operation is carried out in this manner there will be a cost for Turkey-U.S. relations, because the YPG is a terrorist organization".

The talks, announced by Turkey, come amid rising tensions in northern Syria, where Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters, USA -backed Kurdish-led forces and Russian-allied Syrian troops are fighting their way toward the IS group's de facto capital, Raqqa. The U.S. would continue to designate the PKK as terrorists, despite knowing the organic links in between, but would not call the YPG as terrorists.

The SDF has controlled Manbij since a year ago when it pushed out IS, but recently it has clashed with Turkish-backed forces.

Success in driving Isis out of former strongholds including Manbij, al-Bab and Jarablus in northern Syria has brought the warring groups face-to-face with deadly consequences. Washington has also often been criticized by Ankara for providing weapons to the YPG.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

At the same time, Ankara has helped with clearing its border with Syria from the terrorists, the commander noted.

The U.S. and Russian moves leave Turkey with "no more room to maneuver", said Faysal Itani, an analyst with the Atlantic Council in Washington.

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"It's quite natural for Syrian troops to be there, because that's Syrian territory".

Therefore, the US-led coalition stationed forces in Manbij to send a message to all forces to keep their focus on ISIS.

The U.S. has moved 500 soldiers to the outskirts of Manbij, according to Ilnur Cevik, chief adviser to Erdogan.

But the U.S. has been pushing the SDF to fight towards Raqqa, Isis' de-facto capital, which would prevent a hugely symbolic victory for the side that manages to retake the city.

"The cooperation with the SDF and our partners (about Raqqa) is going on at the moment". The President of Turkey will participate in the sixth meeting of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council.

The fighters "have a lot of worry, but they don't have any power", he said.

"Manbij is the prelude to and staging ground for Raqqa". But last-minute maneuvering by Russia pre-empted the Turkish gambit with the SDF reportedly ceding control of the villages to Russian and Syrian regime forces. An AFP report showed pictures of US armored vehicles in the western part of the town.

Manbij, which was taken by the YPG from ISIS past year, is Turkey's next would-be target in northern Syria, and all the other countries have deployed in a way deliberately created to block Turkey from such an invasion. As they meet with Russian and U.S. officials, it's clear they are none too happy.

Turkey insists that the YPG must withdraw to the east of the Euphrates, underlining that Manbij is an Arab-populated city.

The defeat of the Islamic State in Manbij last August offered an example of the complications likely to arise.

On Monday, Syria Democratic Forces fighters blocked the main road linking Raqqa with the eastern of Deir el-Zour, which is split between the Islamic State and the Syrian government.

"There is a need for an effective coordination in the efforts to clear Syria of all terror groups because so many countries are involved there", he said.

The meeting of the top brass came ahead of a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Russian Federation.


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