The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurdish and Arab armed groups said on Thursday it would not accept a Turkish role in the operation to clear ISIS from its Syrian capital Raqqa.
U.S. officials have said they hope to start an offensive against ISIS in Raqqa within weeks, and have said that the SDF will play a big role, but Washington’s ally Turkey has also insisted that it take part in the operation.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the plan to isolate Raqqa “would take place soon” with the forces available.
“We intend to go there soon with the force that is capable of doing that and enveloping the city of Raqqa … the final seizure of Raqqa, we continue to talk to Turkey about that and a possible role for Turkey in that further down the road,” Carter told a press conference on Wednesday.
SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters it rejects any Turkish involvement in the operation.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces are the only force that will take part in the operation to liberate Raqqa and we informed the (international U.S.-led) coalition forces that we reject any Turkish role in the Raqqa liberation operation,” he said.
Turkey’s military and allied Syrian rebel groups last week fought against Kurdish forces allied to the SDF in northwest Syria, where both sides are seeking to seize territory from their mutual enemy ISIS.
Ankara is dismayed at the prominent role in the SDF played by the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.
Turkey has stressed that the looming battle for Raqqa should be carried out by local forces and the Kurdish YPG militia should not be included.
Since it was formed in early 2015, the SDF has taken over large swathes of territory along the Syria-Turkey border from ISIS and pushed the jihadist group back to within 30km (18 miles) of Raqqa.
An offensive by the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces, backed by the U.S., started last month to reclaim Mosul, the largest city under the control of the jihadist group, and one whose capture would leave Raqqa as ISIS’ most important possession.