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U.S., Turkey Discuss Strategy For Retaking Raqqa From Islamic State

Fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces fire a mortar shell toward positions held by Islamic State fighters in the northern province of Raqqa. (file photo)

The United States is talking with Turkey about taking an eventual role in the campaign to regain control of the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State extremist group, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has said.

"We'll continue to talk with Turkey about its role in the eventual seizure of Raqqa, but we're proceeding now with the operation according to our plan," Carter said at a news conference on November 2.

"We intend to go there soon with the force that is capable of doing that and enveloping the city of Raqqa. ... The final seizure of Raqqa, we continue to talk to Turkey about that and a possible role for Turkey in that further down the road," Carter said.

Carter has said that Kurdish YPG militia fighters will be part of the force charged with surrounding and isolating IS in its most important stronghold in Syria.

But Arab forces are expected to be the ones to take the city itself, U.S. officials say, to avoid potential ethnic conflicts. A similar strategy has been followed in the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from IS to avoid igniting ethnic and sectarian conflicts.

The role of the Kurds in the battle has emerged as a major sticking point with Turkey. The United States regards the YPG as its most capable Syrian ally in the fight against IS, but Turkey regards it as a terrorist organization because of its links with Kurdish militants fighting a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.

Turkey's concern has grown as the Syrian Kurds, with strong U.S. backing, have taken control of much of the Syria-Turkey border from the militants.

Turkey has said that the Raqqa operation should be carried out by local forces and the Kurdish YPG militia should not be included.

But U.S. officials have privately warned Turkey that it must stand aside and let the coalition-backed operation proceed, The Washington Post reported.

Carter's comments on November 2 suggest that the United States will try to involve Turkey in the final takeover of the city after Kurdish YPG forces have helped to surround and isolate it.

With reporting by Reuters and The Washington Post
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