Turkey says wants to be part of Raqa operation

AFP , Tuesday 28 Feb 2017

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday Ankara wanted to work with its allies to capture the Islamic State group bastion of Raqa in Syria, but without the involvement of Syrian Kurdish militia.

"If our allies are really sincere, we tell them: We will act with you so long as we cleanse Raqa from Daesh and give it back to its original owners," Erdogan said at an Istanbul airport before leaving for Pakistan.

Daesh is an acronym for the Islamic State (IS) group.

But he made clear Turkey would not fight alongside Syrian Kurdish fighters, who are viewed by Ankara as "terrorists".

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), are seen by Washington as the most effective force in the fight against IS but are condemned by Turkey.

Erdogan said Turkey clearly told Washington it would never cooperate with PYD or YPG.

"It is certainly not possible for us to agree with or act together with PYD or YPG," he said.

Last August, the Turkish army launched a unilateral military campaign inside Syria, backing opposition fighters to clean its border from IS militants as well as Syrian Kurdish militia.

Compared to the lightning advance at the onset of its "Euphrates Shield" operation, the Turkish army sustained increasing casualties to capture Al-Bab.

The strategic town, just 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the Turkish border, was the militants' last stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.

On Friday, the Turkish military said together with allied Syrian rebels it had completely taken Al-Bab from militants.

Erdogan, who met with Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar on Monday, said Al-Bab operation was "completed."

"But this doesn't mean the process is over," he said, adding that if Ankara reached an agreement with coalition forces, steps would be taken in Raqa.

He said Turkey was also talking to Moscow because "our solidarity with Russia is also important."

Erdogan said Turkey's Syria campaign had cost the militants a "very serious price," saying more than 3,000 militants had been killed throughout the operation.

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