Turkey, Russia, and US draw chart to oust IS out of Syria

A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey Mar 07, 2017, 09.02 PM (IST)

The top brass of Turkey, Russia and the United States military met Tuesday to increase their coordination in Syria in their fight against Islamic State.

The unprecenedented meeting between Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov in the southern Turkish city of Antalya comes asthe US-led coalition makes its push to oust IS out of Syria.

Although Russia, Turkey and the US are fighting on the same side, there are doubts and tensions that remain over the involvement of Kurdish militia forces.

Though it ultimately stepped back from its claim, Turkey had threatened to strike Manbij, a former IS bastion, unless the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) deployed there pulled back.

The SDF, seen by the Washington as the most effective anti-jihadist fighting force in Syria, is dominated by Kurdish fighters condemned by Ankara as "terrorists."

Both Moscow and Washington confirmed the three-way talks in Antalya, with spokesman for the US joint staff Greg Hicks saying in a statement discussions were about "additional measures" for an effective fight against jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.

"During the meeting the parties discussed regional security matters in Syria and Iraq ... with an effort to wage a more effective fight against all terrorist organisations in the future and the importance of additional measures for de-conflicting operations," he added.

The Antalya talks are aimed at ensuring better coordination to avoid "the risk of unwanted clashes" as many countries are involved in Syria, Turkish premier Binali Yildirim said.

Speaking in Ankara, Yildirim said Syria needed to be rid of "all terrorist groups" -- including Syrian Kurdish militia and IS jihadists.

"The objective of the meetings today and tomorrow (Wednesday) is how to provide coordination in the best way possible and prevent parties from interfering with each other's operations and causing unpleasant developments while fighting against terror," Yildirim said. 

The meeting comes a day after Turkey stepped back from threats to unilaterally strike Kurdish militia deployed in Manbij.

"It makes no sense to launch an operation in Manbij without the cooperation of Russia and the United States," Yildirim said Monday.

His announcement stood in stark contrast to previous threats from Ankara that it would strike the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) unless they withdrew from Manbij.

It came after Russian and Syrian regime forces started to move "humanitarian" convoys into Manbij, making it more difficult for Turkish troops to launch the offensive they had threatened.

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

Ankara believes it is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which seeks greater rights and autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority and has waged a bloody campaign against the Turkish state since 1984.

In a thinly veiled criticism of Washington, the Turkish premier on Tuesday lashed out at "some allies' unfortunate" choice of Syrian Kurdish militia forces as partners in the fight against IS.

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

(WION with inputs from AFP)