Published: Thu, March 09, 2017
World Media | By Joan Schultz

U.S. troops land in Syria to launch Raqqa operation

The top generals of the Turkish, Russian and U.S. military met Tuesday in a bid to step up coordination in Syria and avoid clashes between rival forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists.

The agenda of the meeting, held without prior notice, focused on security issues related to the situation in Syria and Iraq, according to the statement issued by the Turkish Armed Forces.

Yildirim said the meetings would continue today.

According to our sources, President Donald Trump decided, after consulting with Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, that the U.S. army would go it alone in the Raqqa offensive together with a single local force: the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The United States and Russian Federation have a way to deconflict aerial operations through a memorandum of understanding and regular video teleconference meetings.

The country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said last week the next target for the operation in northern Syria was Manbij.

The Kurds have attempted to remain mostly neutral in the fight between the Syrian government and opposition groups, but drifted closer to the government as Islamist groups, including those linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda, became increasingly influential among opposition forces and frequently attacked Kurdish and other minority positions.

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That followed an agreement with Russian Federation to pre-empt an attempt by Turkish-led forces to take Manbij, Reuters reported.

The YPG is a key fighting force in the SDF, which spearheaded the victories against IS in the flashpoint towns of Kobane and Manbij.

There was no mention in Syrian state media of the handover to government forces.

In August, Turkey-backed forces launched an operation to drive ISIL away from its border with Syria. Turkey regards the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that is waging an insurgency against Ankara. In mid-February, Dunford and Gerasimov met in Azerbaijan in what was described by the Pentagon as an effort to "prevent miscalculation and potential crisis" between their forces in Syria.

Turkey has also said it wants to work with its allies to capture the IS stronghold of Raqa, but has ruled out any operation alongside the Kurdish militia.

The forces of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian airpower and some ground elements, have now moved to the western outskirts of Manbij amid reports that the Manbij Military Council has agreed to cede several outlying villages to them.

The unannounced meeting came amid rising tensions in northern Syria where Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters, US-backed Kurdish-led forces and Russian-allied Syrian troops are fighting their way towards Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

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