World Bulletin / News Desk
The top generals of the Turkish, Russian and US military met Tuesday in a bid to step up coordination in Syria and avoid clashes between rival forces in the fight against ISIL militants.
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 militants.
Turkey, Russia and the United States are all fighting against 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 and condemned by Ankara as "terrorists."
"Common issues relating to regional security, in particular Syria and Iraq, are being discussed at the meeting" in Antalya, the Turkish army said in a statement, without giving further detail.
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."
'Risk of unwanted clashes'
The Antalya talks are aimed at ensuring better coordination to avoid "the risk of unwanted clashes" as many countries are involved in Syria, Turkish premier Binali Yildirim said.
Speaking in Ankara, Yildirim said Syria needed to be rid of "all terrorist groups" including Al-Nusra, Syrian Kurdish militia as well as ISIL militants.
"The objective of the meetings today and tomorrow (Wednesday) is how to provide coordination in the best way possible and prevent parties from interfering with each other's operations and causing unpleasant developments while fighting against terror," Yildirim said.
The trilateral meeting in Antalya comes a day after Turkey stepped back from threats to unilaterally strike Kurdish militia deployed in Manbij.
"It makes no sense to launch an operation in Manbij without the cooperation of Russia and the United States," Yildirim said in a televised interview late on Monday.
His announcement stood in stark contrast to previous threats from Ankara that it would hit Syria's People's Protection Units (YPG) unless they withdrew from Manbij.
YPG is becoming a key partner of the US-led coalition fighting jihadists as the group has ousted IS from the key towns of Kobane and Manbij since January 2015.
In a veiled criticism of Washington, the Turkish premier on Tuesday lashed out at "some allies' unfortunate" choice of Syrian Kurdish militia as possible partners in combatting IS.
YPG is considered a terror group by Ankara, linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which seeks greater rights and autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority and has waged a bloody campaign against the Turkish state since 1984.
Turkey has also said it wants to work with its allies to capture the IS stronghold of Raqa, but has ruled out any operation alongside the Kurdish militia.
"Now we are discussing and saying that if you put aside those terror groups, we can clean Manbij together, we can clean Raqa together," Erdogan told a rally in Ankara, referring to the US.
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.
Erdogan to meet Putin
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 fears could join up its so-called "cantons" in northern Syria, near its border.
Turkey is cooperating with Russia in Syria, despite them being at odds politically over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Moscow backs militarily.
Erdogan plans to visit Moscow on Friday, to co-chair with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a meeting of ministers from both countries, a statement from Erdogan's office said.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Mart 2017, 20:45