US plan to press Raqqa button after Erdogan-Trump summit

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The United States is mulling over starting the much-anticipated Raqqa operation to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) immediately after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s first in-person meeting with President Donald Trump in mid-May, amid reports that the White House may give a green light for providing weapons to the Syrian Kurds in a more direct way.

Ahead of the Erdogan-Trump meeting on May 16, officials covering Turkey in various state institutions in Washington have intensified their work on messages to be delivered to the Turkish government during the talks.

Erdogan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalin, who is expected to be appointed as a minister in a cabinet reshuffle at the end of this month.

The Turkish president has suggested that the top issue on the agenda will be the U.S.’s alliance with the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in the fight against ISIL, particularly ahead of the Raqqa operation. Turkey considers the PYD/YPG to be an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria and has long been pressing the U.S. to cease its cooperation with the group.

However, despite the presence of U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has been appreciated by Ankara for his acknowledgement on Turkey’s sensitivities over the PKK, the Pentagon has not changed its original plans for the liberation of Raqqa from the jihadists.

One recent indication of this was the patrolling of U.S. troops along with PYD/YPG forces in northern Syria after the Turkish military’s operation that hit the Syrian Kurdish force’s command center in Karaçok province and other targets.

President Erdogan strongly reacted against the U.S. patrolling with the YPG in the northern Syria and said he will make it an issue during his meeting with Trump later this month. However, there are also suggestions that Trump will sign an executive order paving the way for providing arms to the YPG in a direct way.

The timing of the big Raqqa operation is apparently to be set in line with the Erdogan-Trump meeting in Washington. The Trump administration had preferred to launch the offensive on Raqqa after the accomplishment of the referendum process in Turkey in order not to make such an important anti-terror fight a domestic political issue in an allied country.

Now the expectation is to issue the presidential order for Raqqa after Erdogan’s meetings in Washington as preparations in the field have visibly intensified in recent weeks.

2017.05.02 / 14:12
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