The Turkish military is training hundreds of Syrian tribesmen to deploy against Daesh during an offensive against its self-proclaimed capital Raqqa, a senior Turkish military official said on Thursday.
Turkey and the United States have been negotiating on plans to liberate Raqqa, but huge disagreements remain such as the possible role of Syrian militant group People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey perceives as a terror group due to its links to PKK. PKK has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., E.U. and Turkey.
Following Turkey's successful offensives to Jarablus and Dabiq with Free Syrian Army (FSA) units, Ankara now believes anti-Daesh coalition forces can liberate Raqqa with Sunni tribesmen and Syrian moderate rebels. Senior Turkish officials previously told Daily Sabah that U.S.'s insistence of allying itself with YPG due to the absence of a reliable Syrian group against Daesh has been debunked. "The idea that you can only work with YPG to clean Daesh out of Syria has totally collapsed," one senior Turkish official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to government protocols.
Instead, Turkey pushed Washington to train more Syria opposition forces to spearhead the Raqqa operation. A senior Turkish military official told Daily Sabah that Turkey is currently training Syrian tribesmen from the Raqqa area but refused to provide a precise number for the trainees.
The Wall Street Journal, citing sources within the tribes, reported on Wednesday that up to 1,500 tribesmen have been trained in southern Turkey.
The Journal said the U.S. has been reaching out to Arab tribes in Raqqa province as an alternative to YPG, which caused severe displacement along the ethnic lines in the territories it held and pushed local Arabs to join Daesh in fear of YPG reprisals.
Syria's Step Agency claimed on Thursday that Turkey has been training such force in the city of Şanlıurfa. The agency said Turkish officers were to be training Syrian fighters from Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor between 20 to 40 days, and they were to be deployed against Daesh in Raqqa as part of the second stage of Turkey's the Operation Euphrates Shield.
Meanwhile, Turkey-backed FSA troops and YPG militia from Afrin area clashed in southern Mar'a. Both groups are racing for the crucial Daesh-held city, Al-Bab. YPG is aiming to connect its western "canton" with its territories in the east through the seizure of the city.
Turkey has warned YPG against such attempts in the past and struck YPG positions in Northern Aleppo on Thursday once they began to seize more villages, killing dozens of militants.
The clashes are a severe blow to U.S. plans to use YPG in Raqqa, even though the Pentagon has previously named YPG forces around Tall Rifaat as "Afrin Kurds", and hinted that it has no control over them since there are no U.S. special forces deployed in and around of Afrin.