The top generals of the Turkish, Russian and US military met Tuesday for talks likely to be dominated by next steps in the fight against Islamic State jihadists in Syria.
The meeting between Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov appears to be the first of its kind.
Their discussions in the southern Turkish city of Antalya come as a US-led coalition is making progress to push IS out of Syria, where Ankara has been increasing its efforts against the jihadists.
Turkey, Russia and the United States are all fighting IS, though they support different camps and military tension remains because of Turkish opposition to the involvement of Syrian Kurdish militia.
Turkey has said that the next target of its cross-border Syria campaign would be Manbij, which is now controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group dominated by Kurdish fighters.
The SDF has controlled Manbij since last year when it pushed out IS, but recently it has clashed with Turkish-backed forces.
“Common issues relating to regional security, in particular Syria and Iraq, are being discussed at the meeting,” the Turkish army said in a statement, without giving further detail.
In the past, Antalya hosted several NATO meetings, as well as the G20 summit in 2015.
Moscow confirmed the meeting, with the defence ministry saying in a statement to Russian news agencies: “A joint discussion on security issues in Syria and Iraq is planned.”
Focus on IS
The talks come a day after Turkey stepped back from threats to strike Syrian Kurdish militia deployed in Manbij, a former IS bastion, unless it was in cooperation with Russia and the United States.
“It makes no sense to launch an operation in Manbij without the cooperation of Russia and the United States,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a televised interview.
His announcement stood in stark contrast to previous threats from Ankara that it would hit Syrian Kurdish militia — considered “terrorists” by Turkey — unless they withdrew from Manbij.
The Pentagon said it has sent extra troops into northern Syria to make sure competing forces in and around Manbij remain focused on fighting IS rather than each other.
Ankara has conducted a military campaign inside Syria since late August, backing Syrian opposition fighters and recapturing from IS several towns near its border including Jarabulus, Al-Rai, Dabiq and Al-Bab.
But the Turkish campaign is also aimed at stopping the advance of the Kurdish militia, which Ankara accuses of being the Syrian branch of an outlawed militant group.
Turkey has also said it wanted to work with its allies to capture the IS stronghold of Raqa, but has ruled out any operation alongside the Kurdish militia.
Turkey is also cooperating with Russia in Syria, despite them being at odds politically over the future of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Moscow backs politically and militarily.
The Antalya meeting comes as Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition are gaining ground in a vast operation aimed at retaking the IS-stronghold of Mosul in Iraq.
Source: Daily Mail