UNITED STATES—In a meeting between American and Turkish military leaders on Sunday, November 6, NATO allies agreed to develop a long-term plan for “seizing, holding and governing” the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa in northern Syria, the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) news service reported.
Raqqa is home to nearly 200,000 people—mostly Sunni Arabs—and 5,000 ISIS militants. Once Mosul is officially reclaimed, it will be the last remaining ISIS stronghold.
The agreement comes in response to the complicated alliance triangle entangling the Turks, US and Syrian Kurds: for the past two years, the US has provided the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—which is comprised largely of Syrian Kurds and serves as the primary armed service Federation of northern Syria. With American weapons, air cover and training to aid in the fight against ISIS, the Kurds have proven to be an effective and faithful proxy in the fight against radical Islam.
The issue is that Turkey—another US ally fighting to defeat ISIS—recognizes the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a recognized terrorist organization that has been leading a violent Kurdish insurgency against the Turkish government since 1970.
The Turks are threatened by the amount of territory the SDF has reclaimed from ISIS and fear the Kurds will use their U.S. funded military advances to take over an unbroken stretch of land along the border that they need to establish an autonomous Kurdish region.
“The coalition and Turkey will work together on the long-term plan for seizing, holding and governing Raqqa,” said Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford after meeting his Turkish counterpart Army Gen. Hulusi Akar in the Turkish capital Ankara on Sunday.
Sunday’s meeting reinforced a longstanding agreement that the US-led coalition would not move ahead with the seizure of Raqqa, “without incorporating the Turks and their perspective into our plans,” the DoD reported.
The SDF are moving south to isolate ISIS positions in Raqqa and surrounding areas, ensuring ISIS militants from Mosul do not flee and regroup in Raqqa, where they could potentially plan attacks against Turkey, Europe and the US. Kurdish-led forces will be designated the role of encircling Raqqa – they will not enter the city.