Spotlight: Turkey prepares to take over anti-IS fight in Syria from U.S.

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-27 04:48:15|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- Turkey has amassed troops on the Syrian border as it plans to take over the fight against the Islamic State (IS) from the United States in the war-torn neighboring country amid Ankara's diplomatic shuttle to coordinate its moves with allies.

U.S. President Donald Trump surprised his administration and international partners last week with an announcement that the 2,000 special forces in Syria and airstrikes against IS would cease in the next 60-100 days.

The decision prompted the resignation of both his Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and envoy for the global coalition to defeat IS, Brett McGurk.

Turkey hasn't concealed its delight of Trump's decision as U.S. presence in northeastern Syria was always considered as a nuisance by Ankara.

The U.S. has long partnered with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the battle against IS, despite that Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would "eradicate" the remnants of the IS when U.S. forces return home.

"President Erdogan of Turkish has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of IS in Syria....and he is the man who can do it plus, Turkey is right 'next door,'" Trump said. "Our troops are coming home!"

Erdogan and Trump agreed in a phone call on Sunday to establish military and diplomatic coordination to prevent a power vacuum from developing as the U.S. withdraws.

The move has sealed the warming of ties between the two major NATO allies after a tumultuous period marred over a range of differences including the issue of Syria.

A committee of U.S. military officials will visit Turkey this week to discuss the details of the pullout with their counterparts, said Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish presidential spokesman.

He added that Turkey would also increase coordination with Russia in Syria as Erdogan is to discuss the situation with President Vladimir Putin.

Turkish specialists believe that Turkey has extensive experience in the past in dealing with IS in Syria and would make good use of the know-how that has acquired.

"Contrary to other experiences led by the U.S.-PKK model, Turkey has managed to establish stability in the regions," Can Acun, an expert on Syria told Xinhua.

This specialist from the Ankara-based think tank Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research pointed out that Turkish forces and rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) backed by Ankara have already neutralized more than 3,000 IS members in Syria.

"Thus Turkey can repeat this positive experience in the east of the Euphrates and clear the remaining last pockets of IS in a large area right up to Hajin," a city in eastern Syria that has become a hub for jihadists, Acun added.

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, "Turkey has the power to eradicate IS in Syria on its own."

Meanwhile, Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters said this week that they are preparing to move into eastern Syria alongside Turkish troops as U.S. forces withdraw and were massing on the front line of Manbij town.

The Turkish leader who threatened to wipe out the YPG in Manbij and east of the Euphrates, where most of the Kurdish fighters are based, announced that an imminent incursion was postponed in light of Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. soldiers.

Analysts fear that Washington's game-changer move could help IS to be able to resurge in Syria.

"IS can regroup and retain some of the territories it had lost. After the U.S. withdrawal, it will surely feel a lot more comfortable in re-strategizing its actions both in the region and beyond," Serkan Demirtas, political analyst and journalist, told Xinhua.

In getting on the front lines of the fight against jihadists, Turkey could risks of being targeted once again by terrorist attacks on its own soil.

Demirtas said that IS is believed to have around 2,000 members in Syria. He, however, warned that the movement "can lure many recruits mainly from Iraq and Syria."

"Therefore, IS may pose a continued threat to world peace and Turkey may be one of the immediate targets of the jihadists," Demirtas added.