Turkey, US ‘ready to work’ on ousting IS from Raqa

ISTANBUL (TIP): 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 on sept 7.

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 remove IS jihadists and Kurdish militia from its frontier. 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.

Loaded with luggage and possessions, hundreds of civilians began returning to Jarabulus on Wednesday, forming long queues at the border gate outside the Turkish town of Karkamis, an AFP photographer said.

But Turkey on Tuesday 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 on Tuesday, 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. Long criticized for failure to stem the flow of foreign fighters joining ranks with IS, Turkey hopes the ouster of the jihadists from its frontier will drastically improve security.

“Obviously, with ISIS (IS) removed from the border, we expect this development to have a positive impact on foreign fighters,” a senior Turkish official said, on condition of anonymity.