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Turkey, Russia, US military chiefs seek better coordination against IS
Istanbul (AFP) March 8, 2017

Syrian forces retake Aleppo water-pumping station: monitor
Beirut (AFP) March 7, 2017 - Russian-backed Syrian government forces on Tuesday retook from the Islamic State group a pumping station that supplies water to second city Aleppo, a monitoring group said.

"Regime forces took over the area of Al-Khafsa and seized the water-pumping station after the withdrawal of the IS jihadists," said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The jihadists fled in the face of a Syrian government offensive backed by Russian air strikes, he said.

The Al-Khafsah pumping station provides the water supply for Aleppo and residents of the government-held city had been without mains supplies for some 50 days since the jihadists cut it.

The government offensive in Aleppo province has involved heavy air strikes and shelling and prompted an exodus of civilians.

The United Nations says at least 26,000 people have fled since February 25.

Many have headed towards the town of Manbij and surrounding villages, which are held by a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Early Tuesday, the Observatory reported that government forces were very close to the pumping station and the Jarrah military airport.

For now, the airport remains in the hands of the jihadists, who seized the facility in January 2014 from rebels who had taken it from the government in February 2013.

The top generals of the Turkish, Russian and US military met Tuesday in a bid to step up coordination in Syria and avoid clashes between rival forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists.

The meeting between Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov appears to be the first of its kind.

Their discussions in the southern Turkish city of Antalya came as a US-led coalition made progress in its effort to push IS out of Syria.

While Turkey, Russia and the United States are all fighting against IS, they support different camps and tension remains because of Ankara's opposition to the involvement of Syrian Kurdish militia forces.

Though it ultimately stepped back from its claim, Turkey had threatened to strike Manbij, a former IS bastion, unless the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) deployed there pulled back.

The SDF, seen by the Washington as the most effective anti-jihadist fighting force in Syria, is dominated by Kurdish fighters condemned by Ankara as "terrorists."

Both Moscow and Washington confirmed the three-way talks in Antalya.

"During the meeting the parties discussed regional security matters in Syria and Iraq ... with an effort to wage a more effective fight against all terrorist organisations in the future and the importance of additional measures for de-conflicting operations," US joint staff spokesman Greg Hicks said in a statement.

- 'Risk of unwanted clashes'-

The Antalya talks are aimed at ensuring better coordination to avoid "the risk of unwanted clashes" as many countries are involved in Syria, Turkish premier Binali Yildirim said.

Speaking in Ankara, Yildirim said Syria needed to be rid of "all terrorist groups" -- including Syrian Kurdish militia and IS jihadists.

"The objective of the meetings today and tomorrow (Wednesday) is how to provide coordination in the best way possible and prevent parties from interfering with each other's operations and causing unpleasant developments while fighting against terror," Yildirim said.

The meeting comes a day after Turkey stepped back from threats to unilaterally strike Kurdish militia deployed in Manbij.

"It makes no sense to launch an operation in Manbij without the cooperation of Russia and the United States," Yildirim said Monday.

His announcement stood in stark contrast to previous threats from Ankara that it would strike the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) unless they withdrew from Manbij.

It came after Russian and Syrian regime forces started to move "humanitarian" convoys into Manbij, making it more difficult for Turkish troops to launch the offensive they had threatened.

The YPG is a key fighting force in the SDF, which spearheaded the victories against IS in the flashpoint towns of Kobane and Manbij.

Ankara believes it is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which seeks greater rights and autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority and has waged a bloody campaign against the Turkish state since 1984.

In a thinly veiled criticism of Washington, the Turkish premier on Tuesday lashed out at "some allies' unfortunate" choice of Syrian Kurdish militia forces as partners in the fight against IS.

Turkey has said it wants to work with its allies to capture the IS de facto capital of Raqa, but has ruled out any operation alongside the Kurdish militia.

- 'Clean Raqa together' -

Speaking to a rally of supporters in Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in reference to the US: "Now we are discussing and saying that if you put aside those terror groups, we can clean Manbij together, we can clean Raqa together."

The Pentagon said Monday it had sent extra troops into northern Syria to make sure competing forces in and around Manbij remain focused on fighting IS rather than each other.

Ankara has conducted a military campaign inside Syria since late August, backing Syrian opposition fighters and recapturing from IS several towns near its border.

But the Turkish campaign is also aimed at stopping the advance of the Kurdish militia, which Ankara fears could join up its so-called "cantons" in northern Syria, near its border.

Turkey is cooperating with Russia in Syria, despite them being at odds politically over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Moscow backs militarily.

Erdogan plans to visit Moscow on Friday, to co-chair with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a meeting of ministers from both countries, the Turkish leader's office said in a statement.

Turkey, Russia, US military chiefs weigh anti-IS steps
Istanbul (AFP) March 7, 2017
The top generals of the Turkish, Russian and US military met Tuesday for talks likely to be dominated by next steps in the fight against Islamic State jihadists in Syria. The meeting between Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov appears to be the first of its kind. Their discussions ... read more

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