The United States is continuing to talk with its ally Turkey on the role it will play in the operation to seize the city of Raqqa, a Daesh stronghold in Syria, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on Wednesday.
Carter's comments, made during a news conference in the US, come days after Turkey said it wants the Raqqa operation to start after Iraqi city Mosul and Euphrates Shield (in Syria) operations have been completed.
"We'll continue to talk with Turkey about its role in the eventual seizure of Raqqa, but we're proceeding now with the operation according to our plan," Carter said.
Carter said last week that Washington expected the Raqqa operation to overlap with the battle to retake Mosul from Daesh.
"We intend to go there soon with the force that is capable of doing that and enveloping the city of Raqqa... the final seizure of Raqqa, we continue to talk to Turkey about that and a possible role for Turkey in that further down the road," Carter said.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook reiterated efforts to “liberate Raqqa will begin […] within a matter of weeks.” Cook said the US considered it was important to keep the pressure on Daesh while it is being targeted in Mosul in Iraq.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus told reporters in Ankara that his government’s suggestion is to use local Arabs in the operation and to hold the territory.
However, US officials have said, YPG militia fighters will be included as a part of the force to isolate the Daesh-held Syrian city. Arab forces are expected to be the ones to take the city itself.
The United States regards the YPG as an ally in its fight against Daesh, but Turkey regards it as a terrorist organisation because of its links with the PKK terrorist organisation fighting a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
Turkey has said that the Raqqa operation should be carried out by local forces and the Kurdish YPG militia should not be included.
On October 28, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, “We have a loud and clear stance there. We can be with you [the US] against Daesh in the Raqqa operation but if elements such as PYD/YPG, which we identified as terrorist groups, join the operation, we are not there,” he said.
In late June, Daesh fighters drove Syrian regime troops out of Raqqa in response to an offensive that began on June 3. Government troops had entered Daesh-held Raqqa for the first time since 2014, aiming for the country’s largest dam at Tabqa on the Euphrates River.