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Dunford, Turkish Leaders Create Long-term Plan Against ISIL in Raqqa

By Jim Garamone

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ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 6, 2016 — U.S. and Turkish military leaders have hammered out a long-range plan for operations against ISIL in Syria.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his counterpart Turkish Army Gen. Hulusi Akar at the General Staff headquarters here today.

Army Gen. Hulusi Akar, the chief of the Turkish General Staff, bids farewell to Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, following meetings in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 6, 2016. DoD Photo by D. Myles Cullen
Army Gen. Hulusi Akar, the chief of the Turkish General Staff, bids farewell to Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, following meetings in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 6, 2016. DoD Photo by D. Myles Cullen
Army Gen. Hulusi Akar, the chief of the Turkish General Staff, bids farewell to Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, following meetings in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 6, 2016. DoD Photo by D. Myles Cullen Bidding Farewell
Army Gen. Hulusi Akar, the chief of the Turkish General Staff, bids farewell to Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, following meetings in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 6, 2016. DoD Photo by D. Myles Cullen

“The coalition and Turkey will work together on the long-term plan for seizing, holding and governing Raqqa,” Dunford said following his meetings.

He noted that operations against the so-called capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have already begun, even as operations against the terror group continue Mosul in Iraq.

Coordinate Operational Planning

Dunford said he meet with Akar to coordinate operational planning in many areas, including operations against ISIL in Raqqa, operations in Mosul and others. “Obviously as a close ally, we really just want to make sure that we’re completely tight as we work through some challenging issues,” he said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces has been a concern for Turkey since the inception of the anti-ISIL group last year. Originally composed primarily of Kurdish personnel, it is now more multiethnic and is actively pursuing operations against ISIL’s hold of Raqqa.

“[The SDF] are moving south to isolate the enemy that’s in the vicinity of Raqqa and in Raqqa,” the general said. “We always advertised that the isolation phase is going to take months.”

The SDF is making sure the ISIL forces that are in Mosul cannot reinforce the ISIL forces in Raqqa, and that the force in Raqqa cannot conduct external operations “into  Turkey, into Europe and into the United States,” Dunford said. “We are going to limit their freedom of movement now even as we work on a long-term plan that is more viable for holding … Raqqa.”

Operation in Syria Continues

As this operation in Syria continues, the United States will continue to work with the Turks and others to determine the make-up of the forces that actually seize Raqqa and hold it and govern it, the chairman said.

“We always knew the SDF wasn’t the solution for holding and governing Raqqa,” Dunford said. “What we are working on right now is to find the right mix of forces for the operation.”

The right mix is for local tribes and other people from the vicinity of Raqqa to spearhead the operation and remain to hold and govern the city once it is taken from ISIL, Dunford said.

“[The operation needs] a predominantly Arab and Sunni Arab force,” he said. “And there are forces like that. There is the moderate Syrian opposition, the vetted Syrian forces and the Free Syrian Army forces, and there is some initial outreach to forces in Raqqa proper.”

Last year at this time, there were a couple of hundred Arabs inside the SDF -- there are 12,000-plus now, Dunford said. The forces have grown significantly. Success breeds success and there are lot more forces to use. “As we close on Raqqa, we will identify other forces from the area that are willing to support operations there,” the chairman said.

The SDF is doing a great job in isolating ISIL inside Syria and limiting the freedom of movement of the enemy fleeing Mosul into Syria, he said.

Long-Held Promise

The meeting today reinforced the long-held promise that the coalition would not move ahead with the seizure phase in Raqqa “without incorporating the Turks and their perspective into our plans,” Dunford said. “They will be helpful in identifying the right forces to do that.”

The U.S. and Turkish officials also agreed that a high-ranking U.S. officer and staff will work in Ankara in the Turkish General Staff. That officer will report to U.S. Central Command commander Army Gen. Joe Votel. The officer will act as a point of contact for the Combined Joint Task Force operating against ISIL. “We want to be totally transparent about this with our Turkish ally,” Dunford said.

The general characterized the military-to-military relations between the two countries as excellent. In fact, he felt comfortable enough with his relations with Akar to call him on Friday and ask “if I could drop by” to discuss mutual issues on Sunday.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)