Turkey on Saturday urged the United States to withdraw personnel from Manbij in northern Syria after Ankara said the U.S. said it would stop arming the predominantly Kurdish Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia that Turkey is fighting in Efrin.
As Turkey’s offensive in Syria entered its second week, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “necessary for them [the U.S.] to immediately withdraw from Manbij”, where U.S. troops are on the ground.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to expand the offensive against the YPG to Manbij, east of Efrin.
Sinam Mohamed, a Washington, D.C.-based representative of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria which administers both Efrin and Manbij told reporters on Tuesday that, after Efrin, Turkey will target all of northern Syria.
Manbij was captured from ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces in 2016 as part of a campaign that later led to the capture of Raqqa.
Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch was launched on January 20, and has seen Turkish air strikes, artillery bombardments and armored vehicles used to support Syrian opposition fighters fighting on the ground against the YPG in its western enclave of Efrin.
Relations between the two NATO allies have worsened since Turkey began the operation, with the U.S. urging restraint, fearing an impact on the fight against Islamic State. There have also been expressions of concern over the offensive from Ankara’s other Western allies including the European Union.
The U.S.-led Coalition does not support Turkey’s unilateral action in Syria and is committed to supporting the SDF in the fight against ISIS, a spokesperson told The Defense Post.
One of the major issues is the U.S. supplying the YPG with arms since last year. The militia has spearheaded Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS.
“The U.S. must cut its ties with a terror organisation. It must take back the weapons it has given,” Cavusoglu said on Saturday, adding Turkey “now wanted to see concrete steps taken.”
The Turkish presidency said U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told Erdogan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin in a phone call late Friday that Washington would no longer “give weapons to the YPG.”
During their call, McMaster and Kalin agreed to coordinate closely in order to prevent misunderstandings.
The contact came just days after Washington and Ankara bitterly contested each other’s accounts of a telephone call between Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump. A White House statement said Trump urged Turkey to “limit its military actions,” but a Turkish official said this was not an accurate reflection of the leaders’ conversation.
Turkey views the YPG and its linked PYD political party which together control Efrin as extensions of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency mainly in Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southwest. The PKK has been designated a terrorist organisation the U.S., the E.U. among others, but the YPG has not.
“God willing we will crush them like a steam roller,” Erdogan said Saturday during a speech in Istanbul.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hit out at critics, explaining the “operation was not an option but a necessity.”
Earlier this month, the Coalition said it was working to create a 30,000-strong Syrian border security force comprised in part of veteran SDF fighters.
Efrin faces humanitarian “tragedy”
Health workers in Efrin told AFP they feared the offensive would lead to a humanitarian “tragedy.”
“Medication and humanitarian aid necessary to help civilians will soon run out,” said Khalil Sabri Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Efrin.
The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said at least 11 children were killed since the operation began.
Turkey’s AFAD emergencies agency head Mehmet Gulluoglu said they were making plans for a camp to be established in Azaz “in the face of a possible refugee influx from Afrin.”
With reporting from AFP