According to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, the United States may “press the Raqqa” button after President Donald Trump’s May 16 meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In other words, Trump and Erdogan are expected to work out the last critical details before a major operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State can begin.
“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,” Hurriyet writes. “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.”
The article does not present any compelling evidence that President Trump is ready to launch the Raqqa operation soon after he meets with Erdogan. It is more a matter of Hurriyet pushing the Turkish government’s argument that before Raqqa can be liberated, dealing a possibly mortal blow to the Islamic State in Syria, the question of Kurdish involvement must be settled – something Turkey wants to do by telling the Kurds to settle elsewhere.
Reuters notes that Turkey is also touting a meeting this week between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, at which the disposition of Kurdish militias will also be discussed.
Putin will probably be a more receptive audience for Turkey’s case against the Kurds than Trump, as Hurriyet concedes there is “little chance of reaching a consensus over the YPG’s role in the anti-ISIL fight.” There is a sizable difference of opinion involved. The Turks have lately been dropping bombs on the YPG, while American soldiers are now patrolling with YPG units to make sure Turkey doesn’t drop any more bombs on them.
Erdogan said he was “seriously concerned to see US flags in a convoy that has YPG rags on it,” and promised to raise the issue with Trump during their May 16 meeting.
Over the weekend, Erdogan told a business summit in Istanbul that “America, the coalition, and Turkey can join hands and turn Raqqa into a graveyard for ISIS.”
He went on to say that he would bring “documents” to his May meeting with Trump that would prove the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria is linked to the PKK.
“We are telling American friends not to take a terror group along with them,” Erdogan said, hinting that Turkish forces might “turn up abruptly one night” for further operations against the YPG and PKK.
The Erdogan-friendly Daily Sabah quotes Erdogan stating on Sunday that Turkey is ready to “take the matter into our own hands” if Trump will not support its stance against the Syrian Kurdish militia. He said it was better for the YPG to “live in fear” than for Turkey to worry about terrorist attacks.
The Daily Sabah even noticed Erdogan borrowing President Trump’s famous “drain the swamp” rhetoric this week to describe Turkey’s commitment to purging PKK influence from the border regions of Syria.
The clock is definitely ticking on Raqqa, as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia has made progress against ISIS in strategic locations around the city. A spokesperson for one of the Kurdish groups fighting under the SDF umbrella claimed on Tuesday that 90 percent of the key city of Tabqa is now under SDF control.
Among the most important remaining sectors of Tabqa still held by the Islamic State is the dam across the Euphrates, which some fear ISIS might destroy to wreak havoc on civilian populations when its defeat is assured.