Turkey threatens to seize IS stronghold with US assistance
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Turkey threatens to seize IS stronghold with US assistance

An operation could ‘easily advance to Raqqa,’ the main Islamic State bastion in Syria, Turkish FM says

Turkish cannons fire from their army position near the Oncupinar crossing gate close to the town of Kilis, south central Turkey, towards the Syria border, on February 17, 2016.  (AFP / BULENT KILIC)
Turkish cannons fire from their army position near the Oncupinar crossing gate close to the town of Kilis, south central Turkey, towards the Syria border, on February 17, 2016. (AFP / BULENT KILIC)

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s foreign minister suggested his country could carry out joint military operations with the United States to oust the Islamic State group from Syria.

Speaking in Antalya late Sunday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that operation could “easily advance to Raqqa,” the main IS bastion in Syria.

American special operations forces and a coalition known as the Syria Democratic Forces have begun clearing areas north of Raqqa in preparation for an eventual assault on the city. A major player in the coalition is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey — unlike the United States — views as a terrorist organization.

Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against IS and a Turkish air base is being used to launch bombing runs against IS.

But the involvement of Kurdish factions in the anti-IS effort has strained US-Turkish relations. According to Vatan newspaper’s Monday edition, Cavusoglu criticized the US for dealing with the political wing of the YPG and said it would be better off uniting forces with Turkey.

“Unfortunately the US is entering a phase that is very dangerous for the future of Syria,” said Cavusoglu. “We have warned them.”

The United States, Cavusoglu added, was not fulfilling its promises and had fallen behind on the delivery of HIMARS missiles which were due to arrive this month.

HIMARS stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Their delivery is now expected in August, according to the foreign minister.

“We are ready but instead of implementing the agreement, (US soldiers) are going and wearing the patches of the YPG,” he said.

Images of US special forces wearing the insignia of the Kurdish group while deployed in Syria sparked outrage among Turkish officials last week.

In light of Turkey’s sensitivities, American special operations troops have since been instructed to remove them.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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