The SDF have crossed into Deir ez-Zur province as they continue to isolate Raqqa. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Russia and Turkey have both said they are ready to work with the United States to defeat ISIS in Raqqa as the Pentagon works to develop new strategies to defeat the militant group.
Russia’s defense minister said their forces could begin working with the US without delay.
“We have everything at our disposal for cooperating effectively. Absolutely everything. There are no hindrances to starting this work together. If we are to use very specific terms, today it might be possible to start joint operations in Raqqa,” Sergey Shoigu said when addressing a university audience on Tuesday, Russia’s Tass news agency reported.
He said that it was time for the two nations to “begin calm, constructive and systematic work to achieve at least the level of relations that there was five to seven years ago.”
Russia entered the complicated battle space of Syria in September 2015, militarily backing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis said political leaders of the two nations were ready to engage and “find common ground,” but the US was “not in a position right now to collaborate on the military level.” He made his comments speaking at a NATO conference in Brussels last week.
NATO ally Turkey has also proposed coordinating with the US to retake Raqqa. Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Sunday that Ankara would like to see the US work with Turkey’s ally in Syria, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), rather than the American’s current allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“[T]he job should be done worthily of a strategic partnership, a NATO alliance,” Yildirim said.
Turkey objects to the US’ alliance with the SDF because of the Syrian force’s Kurdish elements. Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a dominant force within the SDF, an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Mattis, who was tasked by US President Donald Trump, to devise new strategies to defeat ISIS, has been meeting with allies including Turkey and Iraq. “We are still sorting it out. The allies are working together, they are sharing planning and that’s ongoing,” he told reporters after his first visit as defense chief to Baghdad. “The planning is still underway. It’s not been all decided. We are working together to sort it out.”
While the planning and discussions are ongoing, the SDF continued to advance on the ground in their campaign to isolate Raqqa. Their forces crossed into Deir ez-Zur province for the first time on Tuesday. The current phase of their offensive is focused on cutting off routes between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zur.
“Military operations of the SDF are now taking place within the provincial boundaries of Deir ez-Zur, from the north – so via southern Hasaka,” a Kurdish military source told Reuters.
“Our entry into Deir ez-Zur was a big surprise [for ISIS], and there will be more surprises coming,” Abu Khawlah, head of the Deir ez-Zur Military Council, told AFP.
On Wednesday, SDF forces on two fronts met up northeast of Raqqa, encircling a pocket of villages still held by ISIS, local media reported.