Turk­ish mili­tias be­gin op­er­a­tions in Mo­sul fight

U.S. eyes larger role for coun­try in Iraq fight

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY CARLO MUNOZ

Turk­ish-trained mili­ti­a­men have be­gun op­er­a­tions north­west of the Is­lamic State­held Iraqi city of Mo­sul, as Bagh­dad and Ankara re­port­edly inch closer to a deal al­low­ing a larger role for Turk­ish forces in the fight.

The mili­ti­a­men, who had been con­fined within Turkey’s main Iraqi base in Bashiqa, are car­ry­ing out “re­in­force­ment op­er­a­tions” near Mo­sul Dam north of the city, a U.S. of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The of­fi­cial de­clined to com­ment on the specifics of the op­er­a­tions, but said only a small con­tin­gent of mili­ti­a­men was lo­cated near Mo­sul Dam. It marks the first time those Turk­ish-trained para­mil­i­tary forces have taken an ac­tive role on the ground near Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

A high-level Turk­ish diplo­matic source who later spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity con­firmed that Turk­ish-trained mili­tias are tak­ing part in the fight to re­take Mo­sul, al­though he did not say when the mili­tias had been de­ployed.

Turk­ish forces have trained up­ward of 3,000 Sunni mili­tia fight­ers at their main out­post in Bashiqa, roughly 10 miles east of Mo­sul, which has been a re­peated tar­get of Is­lamic State at­tacks in the run-up to the Mo­sul of­fen­sive.

“It was a very sen­si­tive camp we were us­ing to train th­ese fight­ers,” the diplo­matic source said.

News of the mili­tia’s ac­tiv­i­ties north of Mo­sul, which has been un­der Is­lamic State con­trol for the last two years, comes amid re­ports of U.S.-led ef­forts to carve out a larger role for Turk­ish forces in the fight.

Dur­ing a re­cent trip to the re­gion, De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter re­port­edly prof­fered terms to Ankara and Bagh­dad to al­low Turk­ish forces on the ground as part of the U.S.-backed coali­tion.

The dual pro­pos­als in­clude al­low­ing Turk­ish forces to pro­vide med­i­cal and hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port to Iraqi and Kur­dish forces clos­ing in on the city, or al­low Turk­ish-trained Sunni mili­tias to take part in the cam­paign to re­take the city, The New York Times re­ported.

A se­nior U.S. de­fense of­fi­cial could not con­firm whether the two pro­pos­als were part of Mr. Carter’s dis­cus­sions with Turk­ish and Iraqi mil­i­tary of­fi­cials. But the of­fi­cial noted that Mr. Carter dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of al­low­ing Turk­ish fight­ers to con­duct airstrikes in Iraq as part of the Mo­sul cam­paign.

“They did talk about get­ting Turkey on the [Air Task­ing Or­der] for airstrikes,” the of­fi­cial said, re­fer­ring to the list of coali­tion air­craft au­tho­rized to launch strikes against Is­lamic State tar­gets in Iraq.

Turk­ish Jus­tice Min­is­ter Bekir Bozdag, on an un­re­lated visit to Wash­ing­ton this week, told re­porters at the Turk­ish Em­bassy that Turkey’s mil­i­tary had ren­dered more than 700 Is­lamic State fight­ers “in­ef­fec­tive” near the north­ern Iraqi city.

The diplo­matic source said the Is­lamic State ca­su­al­ties re­sulted from ar­tillery strikes launched against tar­gets in and around Mo­sul from the Turk­ish train­ing camp in Bashiqa.

In July, The Times ob­served Turk­ish ar­tillery fir­ing at Is­lamic State tar­gets on the eastern edge of Mo­sul, just out­side Kur­dish pesh­merga lines near Bashiqa.

There is a sense of will­ing­ness from Bagh­dad and Ankara to come to an agree­ment that will grant Turkey a role in the fight for Mo­sul and pos­si­bly be­yond, the U.S. de­fense of­fi­cial said.

Mr. Carter, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand chief Gen. Joseph Vo­tel and Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. com­man­der in Iraq, have been “work­ing to fa­cil­i­tate” a deal to ap­pease Turkey’s de­sire to gain a role in the Mo­sul cam­paign, while main­tain­ing the Amer­i­can-backed Iraqi coali­tion, the of­fi­cial said.

De­spite such de­vel­op­ments, White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest ex­pressed doubt over a Turk­ish mil­i­tary role in Iraq.

“I think it can be an on­go­ing dis­cus­sion … [but] I don’t know if we’ll get to a place where there is a role that ma­te­ri­al­izes for Turk­ish troops to sup­port Iraqi se­cu­rity forces,” he told re­porters wThurs­day.

Guy Tay­lor con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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