(The Washington Post newspaper) Forces combating ISIS in Syria should focus on defeating the militants rather than wasting energy and resources fighting among themselves, the head of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria said Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said that Kurdish fighters would participate “in some form or fashion” in the upcoming operation to retake the city of Raqqa, ISIS de facto capital in Syria. But he insisted that they will largely be “local Kurds” from the Raqqa area who pose no threat to neighboring Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that Turkish forces would participate in the offensive but that any involvement by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, was unacceptable. Turkey considers the YPG, which has been in the forefront of U.S.-backed ground operations in Syria, to be a terrorist organization in league with its own separatist Kurds and responsible for terrorist attacks inside Turkey.
Townsend said he has “seen absolutely zero evidence” of that. Pentagon officials have been negotiating with Turkey for weeks in an effort to include its forces in the Raqqa offensive while not throwing out existing plans for YPG participation.
“We encourage all forces to remain focused on the counter-ISIS fight and concentrate their efforts on defeating ISIS and not toward other objectives that may cause the coalition to divert energy and resources away from Raqqa,” Townsend told reporters via a video link from Baghdad. ISIS is an acronym for ISIS.
Discussions over how and when to begin the operation have continued as the Pentagon this week delivered its updated plan for that and other counter-ISIS operations in Syria and Iraq. Townsend said he had provided his own recommendations for the plan but declined to discuss them until the White House has finished its deliberations.