(GPA) Syria – The United States and Turkish government have made an announcement on Sunday outlining their plans to “seize, hold and govern” the Islamic State (IS) capital city, Raqqa in northern Syria.
The Department of Defense published news on their site yesterday of a meeting in Ankara, Turkey between US Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford and his Turkish counterpart Army Gen. Hulusi Akar. According to the press release the meeting was to work out long term plans for the ‘liberation’ and governance of the IS stronghold in Raqqa in the upcoming months.
The report noted that the fight in and around Raqqa has already begun yet direct Turkish involvement is set to escalate in the next few weeks. There are already points of tension between the US and Turkey in the fight for Raqqa who have been having trouble collaborating on multiple offensives in the war against IS.
Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter also released a statement on Sunday that he welcomed the “announcement by the SDF that the operation to free Raqqa from ISIL’s barbaric grip has begun.” The SDF is short for Syrian Democratic Forces, a group primarily consisting of Kurdish fighters active in northern Syria. This is likely to be the biggest source of disagreement between the US and Turkey in the upcoming assault.
Turkey’s president Erdogan has already come out since the meetings to say the US is naive to be attacking IS with what he considers a ‘competing terrorist organization.’ The US has been arming these Syrian Kurds for quite some time now in preparation for this exact offensive.
Although Turkish and Kurdish units have cooperated on very rare occasions, the fight for Raqqa seems to be moving in a similar direction as most offensives in Iraq. Most notorious now is the battle for Mosul, where the Kurds were ordered to stand down and even fall back, lest Turkey “feel threatened” and essentially invade Iraqi soil.
Judging by the DOD press release, the only difference between Iraq and Syria is that the US already has a semi-cooperative government they want to occupy Mosul once it has been cleared of IS forces. The US has not overtly expressed any intention of granting the Kurds autonomy in any region of Iraq or Syria.
With that said, it makes sense why the US would want the Turks to occupy and help govern Raqqa once it has been cleared. Just like Mosul, there are plenty of other “moderate” groups in the area who would gladly take the city as their prize After IS is gone. The only problem is that Syria is still a sovereign functioning state locked in a civil war and a move like this by their enemies in Ankara would essentially be an invasion and occupation of territory that belongs to the government of Bashar Assad