US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara for talks with the country’s leaders over the battle against the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon chief’s arrival on Friday comes amid escalating tensions between Ankara and Baghdad over Turkish military operations in northern Iraq.
Ankara claims it is training Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battling Daesh, which currently controls swathes of land in Iraq.
Baghdad has repeatedly asked Turkey to withdraw its forces from the Bashiqa camp, describing Turkey’s military presence in Iraq as an infringement of its sovereignty.
Carter said he would stress the need to respect Iraq’s sovereignty during his visit to Turkey, which has been locked in a dispute with Baghdad over who should participate in the campaign to retake Mosul from ISIL.
Carter was due to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, as well as Defense Minister Fikri Isik.
“We’ve long had discussions with everyone about this – about respect for Iraqi sovereignty in the course of the conduct of the counter-ISIL campaign,” Carter told reporters on his plane traveling with him to Turkey.
Currently there are about 5,200 US soldiers in Iraq. The US troops are allegedly providing air support, training and advice to the Iraqi military.
The United States and some its allies have been carrying out air strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014 allegedly targeting Daesh terrorists.
US forces invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple long-time dictator Saddam Hussein but the large-scale military operation deteriorated security in the Arab country and gave birth to various militant groups like Daesh.
A massive military operation was launched by Iraqi forces earlier this week to drive out Daesh from the northern city of Mosul, their last stronghold in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Erdogan once again rejected Baghdad’s objections to the presence of its forces in northern Iraq, claiming Ankara seeks to prevent the Mosul battle from turning into a “sectarian one” and causing “blood and fire” in the Middle East.
Ankara maintains an estimated 2,000 troops in Iraq. Around 500 of the soldiers are deployed to the Bashiqa military camp in northern Iraq.
Carter said he also wants to talk to Turkish leaders about the ongoing effort to secure Turkey’s border with Syria. Turkey has increased military operations against Daesh in Syria.
Ankara has been angered by Washington’s support for Kurdish forces battling Daesh in Syria. Asked about Turkish air strikes that struck a group of Kurdish fighters allied to a US-backed militia in northern Syria, Carter said he was not certain about what precisely transpired.
There are dozens of US special operations forces in Syria, who are working closely with a collection of various militant groups that are trying to topple the country’s legitimate government.