Erdogan and Trump agree on jont action against IS in Syria

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, February 8, 2017. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in an overnight phone call on joint action against Islamic State in the Syrian towns of Raqqa and al-Bab, both held by the militants, Turkish presidency sources said on Wednesday.

U.S.-Turkish differences during former President Barack Obama’s administration impeded the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State, and closer coordination could mean faster progress towards freeing swathes of northern Syria from IS.

Erdogan now hopes that relations with Washington, strained by the presence in the United States of a cleric he blames for an attempted military coup last year and by U.S. support for Kurdish militia in Syria, can be reset under Trump.

Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO alliance and is key to any success in rolling back and eventually neutralising IS in Syria and Iraq where IS declared a cross-border caliphate after lightning advances in 2014.

Turkey has presented a detailed plan to oust Islamic State from its Raqqa urban stronghold in northeastern Syria and strategy discussions with the Trump administration are under way, according to Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin.

“The operational details were not discussed on this call … Now detailed planning will be conducted in coordination,” he told Turkish broadcaster NTV in an interview.

Ankara believes recent IS attacks in Turkey, including a New Year’s Day shooting in an Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, have been steered from al-Bab and Raqqa, and regards a clear-out of the towns as a national security priority.

Turkish government and Syrian rebel sources said on Wednesday insurgents backed by Turkey’s military had taken the outskirts of al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo. If al-Bab falls, Ankara would strengthen its sway over an area of northern Syria where it has created a de facto buffer zone.

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