US Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo paid a visit to Ankara on Thursday where he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief, Hakan Fidan, and discussed cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including a possible mission to retake Raqqa, the ISIL stronghold in Syria.
Pompeo’s visit to Turkey is his first foreign trip after his appointment on Jan. 23 and came two days after Erdoğan spoke on the phone with President Donald Trump on Tuesday.
The ties between NATO allies Turkey and the US were strained during the Obama administration as Turkey was unhappy with US support for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which mainly consist of Syrian Democratic Forces militia, which the US supports in their fight against ISIL.
According to a Washington Post report on Wednesday, Erdoğan, during the phone call on Tuesday, attempted to persuade Trump to abandon a proposal backed by the US military to arm Kurdish fighters for an assault on Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIL, saying that such a move would damage Turkey’s military efforts as well as the strained relations between the two countries.
The Washington Post reported on the call on Wednesday and said that according to Turkish and American officials, Trump was “noncommittal,” saying that “additional consultations [are] needed on the Kurdish question.”
“President Donald J. Trump today spoke by phone with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey about the close, long-standing relationship between the United States and Turkey and their shared commitment to combating terrorism in all its forms. President Trump reiterated US. support to Turkey as a strategic partner and NATO ally, and welcomed Turkey’s contributions to the counter-ISIS (or ISIL) campaign,” the White House readout said on Tuesday night.
While Turkey considers PYD and YPG as extensions of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and designates them as terrorist groups, Washington backs the YPG militia in the fight against ISIL, which has drawn strong criticism from Ankara.
Meanwhile, Pompeo’s visit coincided with a terror operation by Turkish police in southern Gaziantep province in which 150 kilograms of explosives, suicide attack belts, remote control detonators and several guns were seized and four ISIL suspects were detained. Following their questioning at the Gaziantep Police Department, a penal court of peace in Gaziantep released two suspects pending trial and arrested two others on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.