Turkey, U.S. at Odds Over Force to Fight ISIS

Turkey, U.S. at Odds Over Force to Fight ISIS by Raja Abdulrahim, Wall Street Journal

Turkey is assembling a contingent of thousands of Syrian Arab fighters who it insists should lead the offensive to retake Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa instead of the Syrian Kurdish militia the U.S. favors, according to commanders of the force.

The Arab force is central to tensions between Washington and Ankara, its North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, over the campaign to unseat the extremist group from its de facto Syrian capital. The dispute has hampered preparations for the offensive.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces is led by the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, which Washington sees as the ground force most capable of confronting Islamic State. U.S. officials say they don’t expect the Turkish-backed Arab force to play a role in the fight for Raqqa, a predominantly Arab city.

But Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group. And commanders of the Arab force and their Turkish backers say their force’s skills were honed in months of combat during which it helped clear Islamic State from a swath of northern Syria along the Turkish border.

“They can’t finish the battle without us,” said Muhammad al-Masri, a commander with the Turkish-backed Arab rebel group Faylaq al-Sham. “If the SDF was capable of taking Raqqa, then it would have done so already and we wouldn’t be asked to participate.”

The opposing views are expected to be a top focus of upcoming talks between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a White House meeting set for mid-May. There are strong indications the U.S. is leaning toward a plan that would rely on the YPG to lead the offensive.

Turkey views the YPG as one and the same with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a separatist group in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish regions that the Turks have been battling for years. Both the U.S. and Turkey have designated the PKK as a terrorist group…

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