US, Russia Counter Erdogan in Syria as Fight Scrambles Allies
The top generals of the Turkish, Russian and U.S. military met Tuesday in a bid to step up coordination in Syria and avoid clashes between rival forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists.
Hulusi Akar, Valery Gerasimov, and Joseph Dunford took place in the southeastern city of Antalya on Tuesday, the army said.
In a statement released on its website, the US-based Mercy Corps said it had been ordered by Ankara to immedialtely halt its Turkey operations.
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.
The U.S. already has a standing agreement with Moscow to avoid accidental clashes between both countries' air forces operating in the skies above Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to Moscow on Thursday with his defense minister for talks with Putin.
The U.S. and Russian moves leave Turkey with "no more room to maneuver", said Faysal Itani, an analyst with the Atlantic Council in Washington.
"This is a unique circumstance when the US and Russia have found themselves thrown together against Turkey because of the Kurds, who are directly sponsored by Washington and get Russian support too", said Alexander Shumilin, head of the Middle East Conflict Center at the Institute for USA and Canada Studies, a government-run research group in Moscow.
At the same time, the Turkish military, allied with the Free Syrian Army militias, have been threatening to attack Manbij, where they suspect that elements of the Syrian Kurdish YPG, or People's Protection Units, still hold sway.
Mercy Corps' expulsion is likely to increase growing tension along Syria's northwest border, where the myriad military forces involved in a civil war and the separate fight against the Islamic State have converged in pursuit of conflicting objectives.
Turkey's military chief of staff is meeting his USA and Russian counterparts in the southern Turkish province of Antalya to discuss regional security, notably in Syria and Iraq, the Turkish armed forces said on Tuesday.
Last month, the US and Russian Federation issued a joint statement as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group to advocate a cessation of hostilities that excluded ISIS and affiliates of al-Qaeda or other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.N. Security Council.
The SDF has controlled Manbij since previous year when it pushed out IS, but recently it has clashed with Turkish-backed forces.
Binali Yildirim, speaking at a news conference in Ankara, said a risk of clashes would emerge if there was not full coordination.
The meeting occurred as Russia's military announced a two-week cease-fire between rebels and the government in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
"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 cause unpleasant developments while fighting against terror", Yildirim said.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.
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