BEIRUT â€” The top generals from Turkey, the United States and Russia met Tuesday to discuss developments in Syria and Iraq as Syrian government forces made fresh gains fighting the Islamic State group.
The surprise meeting between Turkey’s Gen. Hulusi Akar, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, took place in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya.
The talks, announced by Turkey, come amid rising tensions in northern Syria, where Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces and Russian-allied Syrian troops are fighting their way toward the IS group’s de facto capital, Raqqa.
Turkey, a NATO ally, views the Kurdish group that dominates the Syria Democratic Forces as terrorists and has threatened to drive them from the northern city of Manbij, which the alliance captured from the militants last year with the aid of U.S. airstrikes. Turkey and Syria meanwhile support opposite sides in the Syrian civil war.
The U.S. has a few hundred special operations forces embedded with the SDF and wants the alliance to lead the march on Raqqa, where IS militants are believed to have planned international attacks.
The Pentagon said Monday that U.S. forces have also taken up positions on the outskirts of Manbij to try to keep a lid on tensions.
On Monday, SDF fighters blocked the main road linking Raqqa with the eastern IS-held city of Deir el-Zour. The SDF is now stationed eight kilometres (five miles) north of Raqqa.
Elsewhere in northern Syria, government forces and their allies marched closer to a main water pumping station controlled by IS in Aleppo province, Syria’s military and an activist group said.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops are now just miles from the station, which supplies the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, with water.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed the advance near the town of Deir Hafer, the Jarrah air base and the Khafseh pumping station.
The advance is part of a dayslong government offensive against IS backed by Russian airstrikes. Taking the water station would ease Aleppo’s water shortage.
In the centre of the country, Syrian troops captured the Jazal oil field from the extremists after days of fighting, state TV said, quoting an unnamed military official. The TV said military experts are dismantling explosives left behind while firefighters are working on extinguishing one of the wells that was torched by the extremists.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.
Bassem Mroue And Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press