Turkey and the U.S. could end the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if they collaborate against the group together, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated.
Turkish military officials were in contact with their American counterparts and shared Ankara’s conditions regarding the fight against ISIL, daily Hürriyet quoted Erdoğan as saying on Sept. 25 during an interview conducted en route from the U.S. to Turkey.
The total number of ISIL members in Syria was nearly 10,000, while similar figures applied to Iraq, he said.
“If Turkey and the U.S. cannot cope with this number [ISIL militants], what a shame,” he stated, stressing that if both countries used their full capabilities, they could end the jihadist group.
“The arms of the coalition countries should target Daesh [ISIL], the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party [PYD], and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG] instead of our tanks. But instead German ‘Milan’ arms in the hands of terrorists hit our tanks,” Erdoğan said.
Elaborating on how the leading actors in the Syrian crisis considered a no-fly zone proposal in the war-torn country, Erdoğan said the U.S. had welcomed Turkey’s proposal since the beginning of talks, while Russian President Vladimir Putin did not say “no.”
“What is important is the support that would be given by the 65 member countries of the coalition forces. [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry, in his recent statement, mentioned a no-fly zone. That’s where they would end. They have no other choice,” he stated.
Turkey was continuing its “train and equip program” for Syrian opposition in order to prepare a “national military,” Erdoğan said, claiming that there were a total of 65,000 fighters involved.
He added that the Syrian town of al-Rai was now cleared of ISIL and moderate Syrian opposition groups had moved into al-Bab with the support of Turkish tanks.
Erdoğan touched on Ankara’s proposal to establish a 4,500-square-kilometer safe haven which would be 40-45 kilometers in depth towards the south of al-Bab. Turkey could provide housing in this area with financial support from the international community, he added, stressing that the PYD only had a “minor presence” in the Manbij region of Syria.
Asked about a statement by U.S. Minister of Defense Ashton Carter that Washington would continue arming Syrian Kurds, Erdoğan said he raised the issue during a meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
“I told Biden that they landed two planes full of arms in Kobane. He said, ‘I am not informed about that.’ I said, “But I am aware.” Yet, the next day Carter said they had given and will continue to give arms to them [the YPG],” he said.
Elaborating on possible cooperation between Turkey and the U.S. on a joint military offensive on Raqqa, given Ankara has ruled out the inclusion of the PYD, Erdoğan said interlocutors were discussing the issue.
“We cannot say anything at the moment since we have not clearly seen the attitude of the U.S. But Turkey will not be part of an operation if the U.S. wants to conduct it with the PYD and YPG. But if they do not, we can carry out this struggle along with the U.S.,” he said.
Erdoğan did not elaborate on Turkey’s possible air strike support if the U.S. carried out a land operation with the PYD, saying that he first had to consult Turkey’s security institutions.