Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, his Iraqi counterpart Othman Al-Ghanimi, Commander of US European Command (EUCOM) Curtis Scaparrotti and Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Joseph Votel attended the meeting.
The focus was on Iraq, Syria and counterterrorism efforts, said the Turkish General Staff. The meeting comes six days after Baghdad’s announcement of the total defeat of Daesh in Iraq.
The main items on the agenda were the need to prevent the emergence of any terror movements post-Daesh, and recent US promises to stop delivering weapons to the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and take back heavy weapons already delivered.
Turkey is part of EUCOM, and has long provided its southern Incirlik base for anti-Daesh airstrikes by the US-led coalition, thereby assisting CENTCOM. Both Turkey and the US have military bases in Iraq.
“The US wants to see Turkey and Iraq on its side against terrorism,” Nursin Atesoglu Guney, dean of the faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Bahcesehir Cyprus University, told Arab News.
“But Turkey’s priority is now the elimination of the YPG, seen by Ankara as an offshoot of the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) terror group.”
Washington does not want to push Ankara away, and intends to pull Baghdad away from Tehran, she said.
“For this, the US uses counterterrorism cooperation as a general framework for regional cooperation,” she added.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently said the US would stop arming the YPG, its main local partner in Syria.
Ankara’s main concern is that weapons supplied to the YPG will end up in PKK hands in Turkey.
Erol Bural, a former military officer and a terrorism expert at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, said Ankara and Washington regularly hold security meetings.
“But the inclusion of Iraq in this framework shows that the meeting essentially focused on Iraq’s security post-Daesh,” Bural told Arab News.
“It’s clear that there’s an effort to continue the US-Turkish relationship through military channels, as the political channels are currently blocked.”
Bural said he does not expect a joint operation against PKK militants in Iraq in the short or medium term, as this requires further coordination and an improvement in relations between Ankara and Baghdad.
“But they can take steps to ease and accelerate airspace usage to conduct airstrikes against PKK hideouts in Iraq,” he said.
“Post-Daesh, the common security concern of the three countries may be the possibility of a Daesh comeback or the emergence of similar radical terror organizations.”
Accordingly, Bural said the three countries should boost border security and intelligence sharing against the PKK and other terror organizations.
“It’s also important to take proactive steps to counter violent extremism in the region,” he added.