Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık met U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in Brussels on Oct. 26, the second meeting in five days, as two countries ramp up joint efforts to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was also present at the meeting with Işık and Carter, where the trio met in Brussels on the sidelines of NATO defense ministers’ meeting, one day after the Western defense chiefs from the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL met in Paris to review the offensive on the jihadist bastion of Mosul.
The operations conducted against ISIL in Mosul and Syria were the sole themes discussed at the meeting on Oct. 26 between Işık, Carter and Le Drian, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Carter paid a visit to Turkey on Oct. 21 amid escalating tensions between Turkey and Iraq over the fight against ISIL and sought reconciliation between Ankara and Baghdad.
The U.S. official told Işık they wanted Turkey to participate in an anti-ISIL operation in Iraq, according to Turkish sources. But Turkey’s participation in the Mosul offensive was rejected by the Iraqi administration in a subsequent meeting attended by Carter in Baghdad.
Carter’s push for Baghdad to let Turkey participate in the Mosul operation was encountered by an opposition from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s, who said his country’s forces will oust ISIL militants from northern Iraq.
On Oct. 25, Carter said that the United States expects the campaigns against ISIL in Mosul and Raqqa to overlap, signaling that a push to start isolating the group’s de facto capital in Syria may not be very far off.
Iraqi forces are already nine days into their U.S.-backed campaign to take the city of Mosul from ISIL, fighting their way towards the city’s outer limits in what could become the biggest military operation in Iraq in over a decade.
The campaign itself could last weeks or even months, allowing some leeway in timing.
“Yes, there will be overlap and that’s part of our plan and we are prepared for that,” Carter told a news conference in Paris.
He did not offer further specifics, but his words suggested that military moves against ISIL’s stronghold in Syria might not be far off.
Meanwhile, the head of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim said they fear a “stab in the back” by Turkey if they join a push to drive ISIL from Raqqa.
“It is very important that Raqqa is liberated. But one point which is bothering us is that, if we go toward Raqqa, we will be stabbed from the back,” Muslim told Reuters on Oct. 25.
He did not know when an offensive on Raqqa might begin and called on the United States to ensure Turkey would not strike against Kurdish areas when it took place.
“Maybe they will try to occupy Kobani or Tel Abyad,” he said, referring to Turkish forces and two large Syrian towns in Kurdish-controlled areas near the border.