The U.S. defense secretary is optimistic that they will work it out with its NATO ally Turkey on plans to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, promising to break the impasse in perhaps the most critical offensive in the fight against the extremist group.
Jim Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. wants to work with Turkey to liberate de facto capital of ISIS, but the allies are going to figure out the best way forward.
“Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another, to take Raqqa down, and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it,” Mr. Mattis told a press briefing following a meeting of defense officials from a dozen countries, including Turkey, in Copenhagen.
Turkey has been reluctant to join the anticipated Raqqa offensive with Syrian Democratic Forces, the majority of whom are composed of Kurdish fighters. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going to meet with President Donald J. Trump next week and express his frustration with U.S. support for Syrian Kurds.
The U.S. views Syrian Kurdish militants as the most effective partners in the fight against ISIS and shows little sign that it might shift its longstanding cooperation with the Kurds. Turkey-backed rebels, another alternative to Kurdish fighters, are ineffective in anti-ISIS efforts and struggled for months to capture a small town in northern Syria, al-Bab.
President Trump’s promise of a quick victory against ISIS hit a snag due to Turkey’s unceasing pressure. Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and army chief Hulusi Akar met with White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Mr. Trump also briefly joined their meeting.
Mr. Mattis said little about battlefield details and what kind of plans both countries are working to create a win-win situation.
“But we will work it out … War sometimes doesn’t give you all good options. That’s the nature of war. It’s not a good situation,” he added.
Turkish state news agency reported that Mr. Mattis phoned his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Isik, on Tuesday and spoke about the situation in Syria and Iraq as well as the planned offensive against Raqqa.
Ties between the two NATO allies were strained after Turkey targeted Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq last month. Pentagon said Turkish airstrikes put American troops in the region at risk and killed partner forces.
President Erdogan’s adviser Ilnur Cevik also threatened to hit U.S. troops patrolling Turkish-Syrian border, a sign that revealed both nations cannot agree on military plans in Syria. A coalition spokesperson told The Globe Post that Mr. Cevik’s remarks were “irresponsible and unacceptable.”
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