US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar all met in Antalya. Photo: US Defense Dept.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The three highest military officers from Turkey, Russia, and the United States met in Antalya, Turkey in order to discuss deconfliction between their forces and allies on the ground in Syria.
Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, US Chairman of Joint Staff of Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov all met, Hurriyet Daily News reported, citing a statement released by the Turkish military.
The military leaders discussed enhancing “senior-level communications and operational deconfliction of military operations in Syria,” the US Department of Defense reported, noting that the battlespaces around Manbij and al-Bab are “crowded.”
The US and Russia have dedicated deconfliction communication channels to keep each other aware of their activities in the skies over Syria and ensure no conflicts arise. In their meeting on Tuesday, the Department of Defense reported, the three generals discussed extending the deconfliction process to ground operations as well.
The three countries continue to back various fighters in northern Syria bringing them within close proximity of each other's forces, particularly around the city of Manbij this week.
Russia brokered an agreement for local forces in Manbij to hand over territory west of the city to the Syrian army in order to create a buffer zone between US-backed Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Manbij and Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces advancing towards the city with the stated goal of pushing out Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) allegedly stationed there.
The US deployed its special forces to the Manbij area in a show of strength and support for the SDF.
Clashes between the FSA and Manbij forces have continued but officials in Ankara have backed off their rhetoric regarding military operations in Manbij.
"Without coordination with the United States and Russia, conducting an operation in Manbij is meaningless," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told A Haber, adding that on this matter the Turkish side has continuous discussion with these two sides.
Turkey and the United States, both members of NATO, do have some military coordination. The US and other coalition forces are using Turkey’s Incirlik’s military airbase in the province of Adana to carry out airstrikes against ISIS.
Turkish officials in August denied that Russia had also asked to use the air field.
“Russia had no demands to use Incirlik air base. Those reports are not true,” Yildirim said then. However he did say that if Russia wants to use the base to attack Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria, it is welcome to do so.
The US and Russia are not working together militarily, beyond their deconfliction program, but both are involved in many of the same battlefields in Syria.
Russia deescalated clashes between Syrian-backed government forces and Turkish-backed opposition forces near al-Bab in February; additionally, the United States coordinated with Turkey to strike targets near ISIS-controlled al-Bab in mid-January.
US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, spokesperson of the international coalition to defeat ISIS, has downplayed reports of concurrent Russian and American military operations near al-Bab.
“We do maintain our channel for de-confliction with the Russians,” Dorrian said.
The meeting of top generals came ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's two-day visit to Moscow, which is expected to start on Thursday, according to Anadolu Agency.