US Defence Secretary tells Turkey ‘you are plan B’ for Raqqa

US Defence Secretary James Mattis meets Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik in Brussels.

Turkey’s Defence Minister Fikri Isik, who met with American counterpart James Mattis at the NATO meetings in Brussels on 15-16 February, has said that the US says that it is “impossible for the Kurdish cantons to conjoin”.

Speaking to Murat Yetkin from Turkish daily Hurriyet, Isik said, “We always told the US that you can’t work with one terrorist organisation against another. They never used to listen before and just did as they wished. Now they are listening and responding.”

“Mattis told us three important things: first, that we deserved more support in our struggle against the PKK; second, that they were going to increase their support for our Euphrates Shield operation; and third, that it was impossible for the PYD [Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party] to conjoin the cantons [of Kobani and Afrin],” the minister told Yetkin.

Turkey has been awaiting a response from the US regarding its proposal of two separate plans to take the Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria. “We talked about this with Mattis,” Isik said adding, “but he told us that they have no other plan other than the current one with the YPG.”

According to Isik, Mattis told him, “We already have an A plan, you can come up with plan B,” after which US Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford came to Turkey.

The Turkish defence minister then told Yetkin that, “We want our plan to be implemented there. We want the Raqqa operation to be conducted with the FSA and Arab forces and the PYD dropped.”

This is the clearest signal yet that Ankara has conceded the fact the US is determined to conduct the operation for Raqqa with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a force largely made up of Kurdish YPG and YPJ fighters.