Archive for November 12, 2016

November 06, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Kurdish militant group has claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack in Turkey’s southeast, following a claim by the Islamic State group for the same attack. TAK, also known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, stated on its website Sunday that it conducted the suicide attack in the majority Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in response to Turkey’s “relentless oppression and attacks.”

TAK is an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. The Friday morning explosion near a riot police building killed at least 11 people, including two police officers.

The Diyarbakir governor’s office says PKK militants were behind the attack, based on radio intelligence and has dismissed the claim of responsibility by IS militants.

November 03, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s Interior Ministry has dismissed 1,218 military personnel from the gendarmerie as part of the investigation into the movement allegedly behind the failed coup in July. In a statement released Thursday, the ministry says 419 officers, 604 non-commissioned officers and 195 other personnel were dismissed Thursday.

The government says the movement of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup, which killed over 270 people. The cleric denies any involvement. Authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people and dismissed or suspended more than 100,000 personnel from government jobs in a purge to eradicate the network.

Meanwhile, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported that an unspecified number of Marmara University personnel were detained by police Thursday for using an encryption app allegedly favored by the Gulen movement.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Turkey on Tuesday started moving tanks and other heavy-duty hardware from central Anatolian cities to the Iraqi border, a move seen as potential preparation for an incursion into Mosul to prevent what it sees as possible sectarian cleansing.

Reports and images from local media showed tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers being transported out of Ankara, Cankiri and Aksaray and believed to be headed for the border town of Silopi.

Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik issued a short statement after the deployment began, saying “Turkey should be prepared for all eventualities”.

“There are important developments in our region. On the one hand there is a serious fight against terror within Turkey’s borders, and on the other there are important developments just across our border,” said Isık.

“This action is to prepare in the face of all these developments. Turkey has to be prepared beforehand for all eventualities and this is part of those preparations,” he added.

Turkish officials have responded harshly to Iraqi and US warnings that it not become militarily involved in Iraq without the express approval of the central government in Baghdad.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been adamant that one of Turkey’s red lines is the participation of Iraq’s Shia militias in the military operation underway to take back the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group.

He has also used recent speeches to assert Turkey’s historical claim to Mosul.

Shia militias advance on Mosul

The move appears to be a response to reports which indicate that Shia militia-dominated Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are increasingly involved in the advance on Mosul and are also moving on the town of Tal Afar.

Ankara and Baghdad have been at odds over the presence of a Turkish military outpost in Bashiqa near Mosul. Turkish authorities insisted that they would maintain their military presence in Iraq despite Baghdad calling it an occupation and calling for them to leave.

Erdogan has voiced concern over potential sectarian violence if the PMUs enter the majority Sunni-populated city.

Turkey pushed for a more active role in the Mosul offensive ever since it started but its participation has been rebuffed. Even Ankara’s allies the US and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq have not responded to Turkish pressure, saying it should agree with the Baghdad government, which decides on the participants and their roles in the offensive.

Despite being rebuffed Turkey has said it will not hesitate to take unilateral action if it senses that Sunnis in Mosul are faced with a threat.

Reports have also been coming in that the PMUs have been making advances towards Mosul.

Iran, a strong ally of the Baghdad government, has also offered to “fairly” mediate between Ankara and Baghdad, according to reports in local media.

The images of these deployments emerged as Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim arrived for an unscheduled meeting with Erdogan at the presidential palace in Ankara.

Turkish general in Moscow talks

Earlier on Tuesday, Turkey’s chief of military staff, Hulusi Akar, flew to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart to discuss military cooperation between the two countries and discuss regional events.

Erdogan has stated in recent days that Turkey will adopt a pre-emptive defense doctrine from now on and conduct cross-border strikes against groups it considers as terrorist and posing a threat to its security.

The ongoing military operation called Euphrates Shield, which Turkey launched on 24 August in northern Syria, is also believed to be part of this new pre-emptive doctrine.

The Turkish maneuvers come as Iraqi forces continued to advance within the city of Mosul.

Soldiers from Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service (CST) entered the state television station in Mosul on Tuesday, the first capture of an important building in the Islamic State-held city since the start of the offensive about two weeks ago, the force commander, Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati, said.

“This is a good sign for the people of Mosul because the battle to liberate Mosul has effectively begun,” Shaghati said.

Iraqi troops, security forces, PMUs and Kurdish peshmerga have been advancing on several fronts towards Mosul, backed by US-led troops and air forces. Special forces units sweeping in from the east have made fastest progress.

“We are currently fighting battles on the eastern outskirts of Mosul,” CTS Lieutenant-General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi said. “The pressure is on all sides of the city to facilitate entry to the city center.”

He said CTS forces had cleared Islamic State fighters from most of the eastern district of Kokjali, close to al-Quds, on Tuesday, “so now we are inside the district of Mosul”.

Source: Middle East Eye.


October 31, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police detained the chief editor and at least eight senior staff of Turkey’s opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper on Monday in a continuing crackdown on dissenting voices. Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, the paper’s lawyer and several columnists were taken into custody following raids at their homes, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Police were searching the homes of other senior staff, including the paper’s cartoonist. In all, police had warrants for the detentions of 16 staff members, the paper said.

The detentions at the left-leaning and pro-secular Cumhuriyet — one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers — come amid accusations by opposition parties and human rights groups that Turkey is using the state of emergency imposed following a failed military coup in July to clamp down not only on the alleged coup plotters but on all government critics.

A statement from the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said those detained were suspected of “committing crimes” on behalf of the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — accused by the government of masterminding the coup attempt — as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

The statement said that while those detained are not accused of membership of the Gulen movement or the PKK, there are “claims” and “proof” that shortly before the July 15 coup attempt, the suspects published content that attempted to legitimize the coup. Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

Authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people as part of an investigation into the coup and more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs in a purge to eradicate Gulen’s network of followers. The government over the weekend issued two new decrees that dismissed some 10,000 additional civil servants and shut down 15 mostly pro-Kurdish media outlets.

Sibel Gunes, general secretary of the Turkish Journalists’ Association, told The Associated Press that some 170 media outlets have been shut down since the attempted coup and 105 journalists have been arrested. In addition, authorities revoked the press accreditation of more than 600 journalists while thousands of journalists have been left unemployed, Gunes said.

Opposition legislators, including Mahmut Tanal of the Republican People’s Party, rushed to Cumhuriyet’s headquarters in a show of solidarity and condemned the “unlawful and completely political” raid.

“This is an operation against the mentality that defends the secular rule of law. It is an operation against citizens’ right to information, right to learn. We will not remain silent,” Tanal said. Cumhuriyet columnist Ayse Yildirim said the detentions could be a prelude toward a government takeover of the newspaper.

“We are not going to hand over Cumhuriyet, we are not going to allow them to assign a trustee. We will hold our heads high and continue our publication without fear,” she said outside of the paper’s Istanbul headquarters.

Cartoonist Musa Kart, who was also wanted for questioning, told reporters outside the building as he left to turn himself into police: “How will they explain this to the world? I am being taken into custody for drawing cartoons.” Kart has been prosecuted in the past for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a cartoon.

Anadolu Agency said authorities had also issued a warrant for the arrest of the paper’s former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, who was sentenced to five years in prison in May for reports in Cumhuriyet on alleged arms smuggling to Syrian rebels. The verdict is being appealed. Dundar left Turkey after the coup attempt citing a lack of judicial independence and saying he would not receive a fair trial under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, two prominent Kurdish politicians, Gultan Kisanak, the mayor of Turkey’s largest Kurdish-populated city of Diyarbakir, and co-mayor Firat Anli, were formally put under arrest on Sunday, days after they were taken into custody for questioning on terrorism-related charges. The two are accused of “speaking positively about the terror organization,” referring to the PKK, and allowing the use of municipal vehicles for Kurdish militants’ funerals, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Access to the internet in the region has been periodically blocked since Wednesday — a move which rights activists say is aimed at restricting calls for demonstrations to denounce the mayors’ detentions through social media.

Associated Press writers Cinar Kiper in Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

November 08, 2016

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Heavy rain in the Balkans caused swollen rivers to overflow Tuesday, flooding some homes and cutting electricity to remote areas. Authorities in Albania reported two deaths. Serbia’s state TV said surging waters cut a regional road in the southwest of the country and forced a dozen people to leave their homes.

A second day of rain caused floods in northern Montenegro, near the border with Serbia. Authorities in the town of Berane warned residents not to drink tap water. Albanian authorities said a body was found in a river in Tirana, the capital, while another man died while trying to cross a stream with his car, and there were unconfirmed reports of other deaths as the country struggled to cope with up to 100 millimeters (4 inches) of rain in some areas.

About 3,500 soldiers and emergency personnel have spread across the country to evacuate residents, more than 100 families, mainly ones living near rivers. The Defense Ministry said more than 200 troops and many specialized vehicles have been sent mainly to the northern Lezha district.

Speaking at an emergency meeting, Prime Minister Edi Rama said he expected rain to continue and that “the situation will be extremely grave.” Some 200,000 people were reported to be without power, and the Education Ministry called on all schools to suspend classes. Schools will be closed on Wednesday too.

November 09, 2016

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan on Wednesday deported National Geographic’s famed green-eyed “Afghan Girl” to her native Afghanistan after a regional court had convicted her on charges of carrying a forged Pakistani ID card and staying in the country illegally.

The case of Sharbat Gulla has drawn international attention and criticism of Pakistani authorities over their perceived harsh treatment of the iconic refugee. Gulla and her four children were handed over to Afghan authorities at the Torkham border crossing, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, before dawn Wednesday.

Earlier, a visibly unhappy Gulla, clad in a blue, all-encompassing traditional women’s burqa, and her children were taken from Peshawar to the border in a convoy, which included several Afghan officials, said a local government administrator Fayaz Khan.

At the crossing, Gulla turned once to look back at Pakistani territory and softly murmured good wishes for the people of Pakistan — her home of many years, according to two customs officials at the scene. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Gulla was arrested in late October on charges of carrying fake Pakistani ID papers and staying in Pakistan illegally. A Peshawar court later ordered her deported. She gained international fame in 1984 as an Afghan refugee girl, after war photographer Steve McCurry’s photograph of her, with piercing green eyes, was published on National Geographic’s cover.

McCurry found her again in 2002. In 2014, she went into hiding after authorities accused her of buying fake Pakistani documents. Khan, the local official, said Gulla was to be flown to the Afghan capital of Kabul later in the day, where she was to attend a function in her honor hosted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani’s office did not immediately confirm that event was planned. Peshawar provincial authorities had reportedly tried to find a legal way for Gulla to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds, but she declined the offer, according to Khan.

After the Peshawar court sentenced her to 15 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, she fell ill and was admitted to at Peshawar’s Lady Reading hospital. On Wednesday, the hospital staff presented Gulla a bouquet of red roses before bidding her farewell, said Dr Mukhtiar Zaman. He described Gulla as still being weak from her illness.

Associated Press Writer Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

By Delil Souleiman with Ahmad Mousa in Hamam al-Alil, Iraq

Ain Issa, Syria (AFP)

Nov 8, 2016

A US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance pushed closer to Raqa in Syria while Iraqi forces seized a key town near Mosul as offensives progressed against the two Islamic State group strongholds.

After announcing the launch of the long-awaited assault on Raqa on Sunday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance said it had moved south towards the city despite fierce jihadist resistance.

South of Mosul, Iraqi forces retook Hamam al-Alil from IS, a key objective in their three-week advance on the city.

Iraqi forces said Monday they found a mass grave in the area containing around 100 decapitated bodies.

Raqa and Mosul are the last major cities in Syria and Iraq under the jihadists’ control.

Their capture would deal a huge blow to the self-styled “caliphate” IS declared in mid-2014.

The US-led coalition that launched operations against IS two years ago is providing crucial backing to the offensives, with air strikes and special forces advisers on the ground.

SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed told AFP that the alliance’s forces had advanced on two fronts towards Raqa amid heavy fighting.

SDF fighters had pushed at least 10 kilometers (six miles) south towards the city from the towns of Ain Issa and Suluk, she said.

In both cases the SDF was still some distance from Raqa — on the Ain Issa front at least 30 kilometers (20 miles) away.

“The offensive is going according to plan,” said Ahmed, adding that the SDF had captured at least 10 villages.

– ‘Fight will not be easy’ –

An SDF commander said IS was fighting back with its favorite tactic of sending suicide bombers in explosives-packed vehicles against advancing forces.

“IS is sending car bombers but coalition planes and our anti-tank weapons are limiting their effectiveness,” the commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After taking Abu Ilaj north of Raqa, SDF fighters dug trenches and piled sandbags at the entrance to the village.

“In every area that we advance we are digging trenches with tractors and bulldozers to protect the front line, to prevent the jihadists from getting in and to stop car bombs,” one fighter said.

The SDF says some 30,000 of its fighters are taking part in operation “Wrath of the Euphrates”, which aims to surround and isolate IS inside Raqa before making an assault on the city itself.

Officials have warned that the battle is likely to be long and difficult.

“As in Mosul, the fight will not be easy and there is hard work ahead,” US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.

Driving IS from both cities has been the endgame since the US-led coalition launched air strikes against it in 2014, shortly after the jihadists seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Some 50 US military advisers are involved in the Raqa operation, particularly to guide air strikes, according to an SDF source.

Near Mosul, forces established full control over Hamam al-Alil, the last town of note on the way to the city from the south, AFP reporters said.

It lies on the west bank of the Tigris river, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of the edge of Mosul.

Life quickly resumed in Hamam al-Alil, with some residents reopening shops and others bathing in the town’s sulfur springs.

– Mass grave found –

However, police said they found a mass grave Monday at an agricultural collage west of Hamam al-Alil.

The Joint Operations Command said “Iraqi forces found… 100 bodies of citizens with their heads cut off”.

The US is using Apache helicopters in the battle to retake the city, the Pentagon said late Monday, directing attacks at explosive-packed vehicles.

Fighting also continued east of Mosul, with Kurdish forces advancing into the town of Bashiqa and the elite Counter Terrorism Service battling IS in the city’s suburbs.

“Up to seven neighborhoods are under the control of counter-terrorism forces, and they are now completely securing them and clearing them of pockets of terrorists,” CTS spokesman Sabah al-Noman told AFP.

A peshmerga statement said its forces were in Bashiqa and had “begun house-to-house clearances”.

The Mosul offensive has advanced faster than expected, but the battle for Raqa is more complicated.

Unlike in Iraq where the coalition has a state-controlled ally in federal forces, in Syria its ground partner is comprised of local militias, including some rebel groups that have battled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Aid groups have voiced concerns for civilians trapped in both Mosul and Raqa, warning they may be used as human shields.

More than 34,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul operation began on October 17, the International Organization for Migration said.

More than a million people are believed to be in Mosul.

Raqa had a population of some 240,000 before 2011 but more than 80,000 people have since fled there from other parts of Syria.

Source: Space War.


November 07, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — The men receive a hero’s welcome as they step off the green buses in Syria’s Idlib province with guns slung over their shoulders, having been forced to leave besieged and bombarded towns and cities as part of local truce deals with the government in Damascus.

For more than two years now as President Bashar Assad pursued a policy of local truces, thousands of rebels and opposition supporters have been deported to the northwestern province bordering Turkey — a forced exile that many see as a calculated attempt to gather the fighters far from the capital, at a location where they can later be eliminated.

Already a stronghold of Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, the province is now home to thousands of Islamic militants — with varying degrees of extremist ideology — who have converged along with their families from the central city of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus, after capitulating to government forces.

“The government wants to prepare people, psychologically, for the idea that Idlib is the Kandahar of Syria,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, a journalist who covers Syrian affairs for the Saudi-owned newspaper Al Hayat.

He was referring to Kandahar province in Afghanistan, the base of the militant Taliban’s 1996-2001 government. He said the presence of so many Islamic militants would make it easier for the government and its allies to later justify a massive assault on the province.

Idlib is one of the few regions in Syria where the Islamic State group and the government have no presence, save for two small government-controlled Shiite-majority villages. The province borders Turkey, a key sponsor of Syrian rebels, and the coastal province of Latakia, a government stronghold. Assad’s loss of Idlib city in the summer of 2015 was what prompted Russia to intervene to shore up his forces.

Members of the opposition fear that government and Russian warplanes will eventually carpet bomb Idlib under the pretext that it is a stronghold of al-Qaida’s Fatah al-Sham Front, whose leadership is based there, and other extremist groups.

Since July 2015, U.S. aircraft have killed some of al-Qaida’s most senior figures in strikes on Idlib, including Kuwait-born Mohsen al-Fadli, Sanafi al-Nasr of Saudi Arabia and Ahmed Salama Mabrouk of Egypt, who was killed in early October. They belonged to what U.S. officials call the Khorasan group, which Washington describes as a branch of al-Qaida that plans attacks against Western interests.

The province is also an important stronghold for Syrian rebels battling to unseat Assad. Malek al-Rifai, an opposition activist who recently moved to Idlib from Daraya, said he now has a “five star” life compared to his conditions in the besieged Damascus suburb, where people could barely feed themselves. Access to the Turkish border means virtually everything is available in Idlib — not only food, but also weapons and other supplies.

Al-Rifai said he shares an apartment with friends and has been surviving on some savings. Other people live in tents, some of which have evolved into concrete dwellings complete with secondhand furniture. He said people mostly make a living by working for aid organizations, as taxi or minibus drivers, joining rebel groups that pay salaries or running small businesses.

Although their primary target has recently been the divided northern city of Aleppo, hardly a day goes by without government or Russian warplanes bombing parts of Idlib. “The regime wants Idlib to become another Raqqa,” said Hassan al-Dughaim, a Turkey-based Syrian preacher and researcher from Idlib, who lived there for most of his life until last year. The Syrian city of Raqqa is the de facto capital of the IS group’s self-styled caliphate. Idlib city serves a similar function for al-Qaida.

Al-Dughaim said the Syrian government hopes that the presence of so many militants from different groups will lead to infighting. But despite the steady flow of fighters such confrontations have been rare.

Idlib is also home to thousands of displaced civilians from across the country, who were brought there on the green buses along with armed fighters as part of the truce deals. “The regime wants the people to be as far as possible from the areas they were displaced from,” said Osama Abu Zeid, a lawyer who advises moderate rebel groups known as the Free Syrian Army, who also have a presence in Idlib. He said that because of al-Qaida’s presence, the government will present any future attack as part of a war on terrorism.

Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, agrees. “By lumping the displaced hostile populations in with the extremists, you’ve basically confined the problem to one place,” he said. “Once that is done, the regime will go after it hard and no one will be able to make much of a fuss internationally.”

November 06, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led Syrian forces backed by the U.S. said they have begun a military campaign to liberate the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, urging civilians to avoid “enemy gatherings” in the Syrian city and warning Turkey not to interfere in the operation.

The announcement by a coalition of Kurds and Arabs known as the Syria Democratic Forces came at a news conference in Ein Issa, north of Raqqa, and was attended by senior commanders and representatives of the group. But it lacked specific details on how they plan to oust the militants from the city, which is home to nearly 200,000 mostly Sunni Arabs and an estimated 5,000 militants.

Islamic State forces already are under attack by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on the eastern edges of the city of Mosul, which the militant group seized in 2014 when it captured territory across Iraq and Syria for its self-proclaimed caliphate. The Iraqi forces, who began their operation Oct. 17, are trying to push deeper into the city, which is the militants’ last urban bastion in Iraq.

Kurdish officials said the two anti-IS campaigns are not coordinated but simply a matter of “good timing.” “We call on our heroic steadfast people in Raqqa and surrounding areas to stay away from enemy gatherings which will be a target for the liberating forces and the coalition forces, and to head to areas that will be liberated,” said Cihan Ehmed, an SDF fighter reading the statement.

She said 30,000 fighters will take part in the operation, dubbed “Euphrates Rage,” and that a joint operations command had been set up to coordinate various factions on all fronts. The SDF is dominated by the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The United States considers the group to be the most effective force against the IS, but Turkey views it as a terrorist organization and claims it’s linked to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish group. Turkish officials including President Recep Tayip Erdogan have said they will not accept a role for the Kurds in the liberation of Raqqa.

Turkey’s defense minister last week suggested that instead of the Kurds, Turkish-backed forces can present an “alternative.” But Kurdish officials have rejected any role in the Raqqa campaign for Turkey or the opposition forces it backs inside Syria, and U.S. officials have also acknowledged that the YPG will be a major part of any Raqqa offensive.

“Our hope is that the Turkish state will not interfere in the internal affairs of Syria,” Ahmad said at the news conference, suggesting SDF forces would defend themselves if it did. “Raqqa will be free by its own sons.”

There was no immediate comment from Turkey, the U.S. or the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad on the Kurdish announcement. SDF spokesman Talal Sillo told The Associated Press that the Raqqa campaign will occur on several fronts.

“We want to liberate the surrounding countryside, then encircle the city, then we will assault and liberate it,” he said. Asked whether he had assurances from the U.S. that Turkey or other forces will not interfere, he replied: “Of course, to begin the operation, we have made sure there will be no other forces but the SDF in the operation.”

Another SDF official, Rezan Hiddo, said Turkey has been an “obstacle” to the Raqqa campaign all along. He said the SDF has informed the international coalition that Turkey could spoil the campaign if it decides to strike at Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria. This would force the Kurds to stop their campaign toward Raqqa to protect their areas, he said.

“We cannot extinguish the fire in our neighbor’s house if our home is burning,” he added. U.S. officials have acknowledged that ousting IS from Raqqa poses tougher political challenges than the Mosul offensive, and have suggested the initial stage would involve isolating the city before any forces try to move in.

The commander of anti-IS coalition forces, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said last week that U.S. intelligence has detected signs that Islamic State attacks against Western targets are being plotted from Raqqa, adding urgency to coalition plans to encircle and eventually assault the city.

“We know this plot-and-planning is emanating from Raqqa. We think we’ve got to get to Raqqa pretty soon.” But coalition leaders have been struggling with the timing for the Raqqa campaign, not only because of the demands of the large Iraqi-led Mosul operation but also because the political and military landscape in Syria is more complicated amid a civil war that has lasted more than five years and has devastated much of the country.

Townsend said more Syrian opposition fighters need to be recruited, trained and equipped for the Raqqa battle, but he and other officials have said in recent days that the Mosul and Raqqa operations will overlap.

Unlike in Iraq, where the coalition has a coherent government to work with, the U.S. and its coalition partners in Syria are relying on a hodgepodge of local Arab and Kurdish opposition groups, some of which are fierce rivals. The tensions are exacerbated by the presence of Russian and Syrian forces on one side and Turkish forces on another.

Townsend said, however, that the YPG will necessarily be part of the offensive. “The facts are these: The only force that is capable on any near-term timeline is the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion,” he said.

November 03 2016 Thursday

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurdish and Arab armed groups said on Thursday it would not accept a Turkish role in the operation to clear ISIS from its Syrian capital Raqqa.

U.S. officials have said they hope to start an offensive against ISIS in Raqqa within weeks, and have said that the SDF will play a big role, but Washington’s ally Turkey has also insisted that it take part in the operation.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the plan to isolate Raqqa “would take place soon” with the forces available.

“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 told a press conference on Wednesday.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters it rejects any Turkish involvement in the operation.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces are the only force that will take part in the operation to liberate Raqqa and we informed the (international U.S.-led) coalition forces that we reject any Turkish role in the Raqqa liberation operation,” he said.

Turkey’s military and allied Syrian rebel groups last week fought against Kurdish forces allied to the SDF in northwest Syria, where both sides are seeking to seize territory from their mutual enemy ISIS.

Ankara is dismayed at the prominent role in the SDF played by the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

Turkey has stressed that the looming battle for Raqqa should be carried out by local forces and the Kurdish YPG militia should not be included.

Since it was formed in early 2015, the SDF has taken over large swathes of territory along the Syria-Turkey border from ISIS and pushed the jihadist group back to within 30km (18 miles) of Raqqa.

An offensive by the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces, backed by the U.S., started last month to reclaim Mosul, the largest city under the control of the jihadist group, and one whose capture would leave Raqqa as ISIS’ most important possession.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat English.