Turkey – US Deep Invasion Sets Sights on Raqqa

By James Tweedie

TURKEY’s president revealed yesterday that the US had proposed a “deep” invasion of Syria to capture the Islamic State (Isis) stronghold of Raqqa.

Turkish media reported comments by Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he flew home from the G-20 summit in China. He said his US counterpart Barack Obama had broached the subject at the meeting.

“Obama wants to do some things jointly concerning Raqqa,” Mr Erdogan said. “We said this would not be a problem from our perspective.”

Turkish forces invaded northern Syria two weeks ago with the support of the US-led coalition, seizing the border town of Jarabulus.

But on Tuesday Isis killed three Turkish troops and wounded four more when the Islamists hit tanks with missiles.

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned yesterday Turkey’s actions “could further complicate the military and political situation in Syria, which is dire as it is,” and jeopardise peace efforts.

And the Free Syrian Army, an alliance of Turkish and Western-backed groups, announced it was declaring the Isis-held territory between the border and the town of al-Bab a “military zone,” declaring its intention to seize the area.

The US had previously pinned hopes on the Kurdish YPG militia taking Raqqa before the Syrian army. But relations have reportedly soured since Washington ordered the Kurds to abandon Manbij, to the south of Jarabulus, liberated following months of fighting and hundreds of casualties.

In response to the Turkish invasion, the YPG announced yet another alliance of groups as the Syrian National Resistance (SNR).

Newly formed political bureau member Rezan Hido told a press conference in Tall Rifat, in the Kurdish-controlled north-western canton of Afrin, that the SNR was a coalition of “patriotic” forces.

He said its was open to working with “national forces” to drive Turkish troops from all territories between Jarabulus and Iskanderun — the Syrian province annexed by Turkey in 1939.

On Tuesday leaked photos showed that al-Qaida allied terrorists were being treated in Turkish hospitals.

One was identified as Mohammad Najjar of Jund al-Aqsa, which UN humanitarian agency OCHA said on Tuesday had displaced 100,000 people since last week in its offensive in Hama province, though it is now facing stiff counterattacks from the Syrian army and air force.

###

SAUDI ARABIA’s foreign minister has threatened to escalate the war on Syria if President Bashar al-Assad does not step down.

Saudi royal Adel al-Jubeir told the BBC yesterday that Mr Assad was not in a “position of advantage or victory,” despite a recent string of major coups against Western-backed insurgents, including the surrounding of 5,000 rebels in Aleppo.

“If Bashar al-Assad continues to be obstinate and continues to drag his feet and continues to refuse to engage seriously, then obviously there will have to be a plan B which will involve more stepped-up military activity,” he warned.

Mr Jubeir spoke ahead of a meeting in London between the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) — the Saudi-convened Syrian opposition coalition that stretches from anti-Assad political moderates to armed al-Qaida-allied extremists — and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in London.

The HNC was set to present its latest variation of regime-change demands — a six-month complete ceasefire followed by an 18-month “transition” ending with Mr Assad’s removal.

Mr Johnson sought to present the HNC as the “broadest-based” and “democratic and pluralistic” political force in Syria, and attacked Russia’s “seemingly indefensible” support for the government.

But the member groups of the HNC have repeatedly broken February’s Russian-US brokered ceasefire, renewing its alliance with Syria’s al-Qaida in breach of December’s UN security council resolution 2254.

On Tuesday Syrian UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari denounced the imperialist doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” saying that was the exclusive function of sovereign states.

He said that dogma had turned Libya into a haven for international extremism and exporting terror to other countries, including Syria.

“The events in Syria can’t be described as civil war as thousands of foreign terrorists have entered Syria through neighbouring countries,” Mr Jaafari said.