Kurdish forces to withdraw from Syria’s Manbij under US-Turkey deal

Delil Souleiman, AFP | A picture taken on April 3, 2018 shows vehicles of US-backed coalition forces driving in the northern Syrian town of Manbij.

The Manbij Military Council, a group allied to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, said on Wednesday that the Kurdish YPG militia would remove its military advisers from the flashpoint town in the coming days.


The town's militia said it was capable of preserving the security and the borders of Manbij against any external threats, adding that it would not accept any Turkish military deployment in the area.

The YPG, whose forces helped drive the Islamic State group out of Manbij in 2016, said on Tuesday its military advisers would leave the multi-ethnic town, a day after Turkey and the US reached an agreement for administering the area.

The fate of Manbij has been a focus of friction between the two NATO allies because of the presence there of the YPG, the most powerful militia in the SDF but which Ankara regards as a terrorist group.

Turkey has been angered by US support for the SDF, and pledged earlier this year to drive Kurdish troops from Manbij by force, raising the possibility of confrontation with American forces in the area.

The Pentagon has long feared that the standoff over Manbij would lead to clashes between SDF and Turkish forces. That would put Washington in the unenviable position of either fighting a NATO ally or abandoning its proxy forces in Syria.

At a meeting in Washington on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed on a roadmap for cooperating over Manbij at a time of considerable strain in bilateral ties.

Illustrating the fragility of the arrangement, the US and Turkey offered differing descriptions of what the deal entailed, how it would be carried out and when.

Cavusoglu said the roadmap would be implemented within six months and would include disarming YPG personnel and sending them east of the Euphrates River. But US officials have spoken only of “estimated timelines” and haven’t confirmed that Kurdish fighters will be required to give up their weapons.

What seems certain is that Manbij will remain beyond the reach of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, which has been forced to surrender much of its authority in northern Syria to Turkey and the US-backed forces as it fights rebels elsewhere in the country.


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