U.S., Turkey Have 'Common Sight Picture' of ISIL, Dunford Says
By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
INCIRLIK, Turkey, January 6, 2016 – Discussions with Turkish officials in Turkey's capital of Ankara today included challenges posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Russia, Iran, refugees and border protection, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Army Gen. Hulusi Akar, chief of the Turkish armed forces, and the Turkish General Staff in a series of meetings.
Though the meetings came at a crucial time in the conflict against what officials call "core ISIL" in Syria and Iraq, the U.S.-Turkish relationship is not all about ISIL, the chairman said.
Broad Relationship, Common Security Interests
"We have a broader political-economic relationship with Turkey, and we have security interests in common," Dunford said during an interview with reporters traveling with him. The United States has an important bilateral relationship with Turkey, and the country is also the southern anchor of the NATO alliance, he noted.
Dunford has been chairman for only for three months, but he has spoken three times with Akar, who took office in August. "I've spoke with him via … video teleconference, but I thought it was important to meet face-to-face," Dunford said.
It was important, the general said, to get the Turkish perspective. "They live here in the neighborhood, and they have a unique perspective," he explained.
On ISIL, Dunford said, Turkey and the United States "have a common sight picture of the threat right now, and also the opportunities to work together to deal with the threat."
"It's fair for me to say I don't think there were any surprises in what I heard," he continued. "But it was helpful to get this up-front and face-to-face."
Turkish officials told the chairman what they are doing at the border with Syria. The Turks have deployed an additional 25,000 soldiers along the most critical parts of the border with Syria. These forces join the border police and Interior Ministry troops already there. Officials said they are building berms and fences to block other parts of the border.
The number of people interdicted and at least interviewed has increased significantly, the Turks told the chairman, adding that they believe they have cut into smuggling of weapons and contraband and cut the number of foreign fighters entering and leaving Syria.
Request for More Training, Equipping of Sunnis in Syria
Turkish officials also spoke with the chairman about training and equipping additional Syrian Sunni Arab groups. "They have some groups identified that they would like to have us help train and equip," the chairman told reporters. "We are going to look into that. I can't give you more details, … but they did offer that they felt there were some groups that would be helpful in conducting operations in Syria along the border."
This fits in with U.S. strategy to train and equip Syrian Sunni Arab fighters. It would entail training, equipping and supporting small numbers of people "to come into Turkey to do training so they can then be connective tissue, if you will, to larger elements in Syria," Dunford said.
Sunni Arabs are joining the fight against ISIL in greater numbers, Dunford said. "Without overstating the case … clearly, success breeds success, not only here but everywhere," the general said.
"There have been some good things happening," Dunford said. "The Tishrin Dam [in Northern Syria] has been secured, [and] a pretty significant swatch of ground has been uncovered by the Sunni Arab coalition working with the [Peoples' Defense Units]. Folks are seeing that and say they want to be a part of it, because they want to get back to their homes as well."
Dunford said he wants "to move at the speed of heat here."
"As soon as I have the information necessary to frame this for decision we're going to move ahead," the chairman said, noting that President Barack Obama has made it clear to him that he wants ideas and that he wants to move quickly.
Service members Dunford spoke to at Incirlik Air Base told the chairman they believe the missions they are doing are important and that they feel safe at the base, roughly 60 miles away from the Syrian border. They praised the quality of life for themselves and their families.
"They wanted me to walk away saying they are safe, they are focused and our families are happy here," Dunford said.
Discussions with Turkish officials in Turkey's capital of Ankara included challenges posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Russia, Iran, refugees and border protection, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
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