President Donald Trump and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to act jointly against ISIS in Syria, in their first phone call since the new U.S. leader took office last month, Ankara said Wednesday.
The two leaders also agreed that the new CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, would visit Turkey this week, a Turkish presidential source said.
In their eagerly awaited phone call late Tuesday, the presidents discussed acting together in Turkey’s battle to capture the Syrian town of al-Bab from ISIS jihadists and taking the main ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
“Both leaders agreed to act together in al-Bab and Raqqa” in Syria, the source said.
As the source spoke, Turkey’s military said that Syrian rebel forces supported by Turkish armed forces have seized control of strategically important hills around al-Bab.
It said in a statement that 58 ISIS militants were killed in air strikes, artillery fire and clashes. Two Turkish
soldiers had been killed and 15 slightly wounded.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the operations had made important progress and the next target would be Raqqa.
A member of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, Turkey in August launched a unilateral incursion in Syria, backing Syrian rebels to clear its border from jihadists and also pushing back Syrian Kurdish militia.
However, the battle for al-Bab has proved the toughest yet of the Turkish incursion, with the army suffering increasing casualties and Erdogan complaining Ankara has been left alone.
Meanwhile, a joint U.S.-Turkey operation to take Raqaa was mooted before but never developed further.
Erdogan has high hopes of Trump after expressing disappointment in the past with the former U.S. administration.
Turkey was particularly enraged by U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish militia which Washington regards as the most effective group in the fight against ISIS.
Turkey sees the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), a terror groups and branches of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
In their phone call, Erdogan stressed the importance of the fight against the PKK and said that Washington should not support the PYD and YPG, according to the Turkish presidential source.
Erdogan also said Turkey expected Washington to stand by Ankara in the fight against the U.S.-based preacher, Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating a July coup attempt.
The source also said that Central Intelligence Agency director Pompeo will visit Turkey Thursday which will be his first trip overseas since being sworn in January.
The focus of his discussion will be the YPG and battling Gulen’s network.
Turkey has been frustrated by what it sees as Washington’s reluctance to hand over Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.
The White House said in the phone call Trump spoke of the “shared commitment to combating terrorism in all its forms”, saying he reiterated U.S. support to Turkey as a “strategic partner and NATO ally.”