Syria: Washington-Ankara rift widening as Turkey-backed rebels reach al-Bab

Syria: Washington-Ankara rift widening as Turkey-backed rebels reach al-Bab
A US military spokesman has said that coalition airstrikes are not supporting Turkey-backed rebels marching on the IS stronghold as Ankara launched the initiative "independently"
2 min read
17 November, 2016
Turkey backed rebels are stationed just 2km from al-Bab [Getty]
The US-led coalition currently conducting airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria is not backing a joint drive by Turkish and Syrian rebel forces to retake one of the extremist group’s strongholds in northern Syria.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that Ankara backed rebels who make up the “Euphrates Shield” operation are not being supported by coalition airstrikes because the initiative was launched “independently”, without US approval, in a sign of strained relations between Washington and Ankara.

"That's a national decision that they have made," said US Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition fighting the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq, speaking from Baghdad in a videoconference with reporters on Wednesday.

Dorrian added that the US had withdrawn some special forces soldiers embedded with Turkish forces and their allies due to Turkey’s independent move.

The current lack of coalition support for Turkey’s movements on al-Bab illustrate increasingly strained ties between Washington and Ankara that have in part been exacerbated by the US refusal to ascent to Turkey’s demand for the extradition of controversial cleric Fethullah Gulen, suspected by the AKP government of masterminding a failed July 15 coup attempt.

"What we would like to do is to continue to work with them (the Turks) to develop a plan where everyone remains focused" on defeating IS, said Dorian speaking on Wednesday.

Ankara has also been angered by Washington’s decision to supply Kurdish armed groups such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and entrust them with leading a decisive assault on IS de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.

Ankara views the SDF as equivalent to the Kurdistan Workers Group (PKK) which has waged on ongoing war against the Turkish state since the 1980’s and is designated by Turkey, the European Union and the United States as a terrorist organisation.

Since Ankara launched its previously unprecedented cross-border operations in Syria in September Turkish backed rebels have battled IS, and also clashed with the SDF, seen by many rebels to have formed a “tacit alliance” with the Syrian regime.

Al-Bab is located approximately 30 kilometres from the Turkish border.

On Wednesday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey-backed rebels were just 2km from the city.

Ankara, wary of growing self-autonomy for Kurdish communities in Syria having a knock-on effect back home is keen to seize the city and prevent SDF and other Kurdish forces from joining up cantons they control along the Turkish border, fearing it will stoke Kurdish separatism at home.