Updated March 30
France is to “very quickly” send troops to Manbij in northern Syria to block the advance of Turkish forces, French media reported a Syrian delegation who met the president as saying, as President Donald Trump said the U.S. would be coming out of Syria “very soon.”
French President Emmanuel Macron received the delegation of Arabs, Christians and Kurds from northern Syria at the Elysée Palace in Paris on Thursday, March 29 and spoke with them for an hour.
#BREAKING France's President Macron meets with Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters, Elysee says
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 29, 2018
Macron said that French troops would be deployed in the Manbij area, in coordination with the United States, Le Parisien reported members of the delegation as saying at a press conference after the meeting.
Delegates said that France would “reinforce” its presence.
According to Le Parisien, the aim of the deployment is to block the advance of the Turkish army, and a Kurdish representative said that the French troops will be deployed “very quickly.”
France first admitted that it had special operations forces on the ground in Syria in June 2016, when Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that France was providing weapons, air support and advice to the SDF during the battle to recapture Manbij from Islamic State. French troops were also spotted during the battle for Tabqa in 2017.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s MGK national security council said that if the YPG does not leave Manbij, Turkey would “not hesitate to take initiative by itself as it did in other regions.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was informed of the meeting by the French Ambassador to Ankara, Le Parisien originally reported, but this has been removed from the report. Le Figaro also reports that the French Ambassador was asked to relay the information to Erdogan.
UPDATE March 29 Le Parisien has updated its story and now cites Kurdish representative Asya Abdullah (TEV-DEM Co-chair) as saying that France would send soldiers to Manbij at the press conference after meeting Macron. It has removed the report of the aims and timing of the deployment, although Le Parisien’s reporter tweeted the “very quickly” remark at the time.
Le Figaro reported that, when contacted, the Elysee said “do not present things this way” and referred to a statement. Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot tweeted that the Elysee said “The statement does not mention an element of this nature,” referring to a possible troop deployment.
Le Figaro’s report hedges, saying that French soldiers could be deployed to the Manbij area, but is clear that any deployment “aims to prevent an offensive by the Turkish forces.”
French and Americans move against #Erdogan : A #Rojava delegation in Paris annonce President Macron decision to send troops ‘very soon’ to #Manbij to prevent a new offensive from #Turkey against the #Kurds in northern #Syrie
— Adrien Jaulmes (@AdrienJaulmes) March 29, 2018
Reuters reported that the French presidency “declined to comment on whether Paris was sending troops.”
According to Reuters, Macron’s office said France has offered to mediate between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces.
In the statement, the Elysee said Macron reaffirmed that the priority was the battle against “the terrorist threat” and assured the SDF of French support in stabilising northeast Syria “within the framework of an inclusive and balanced governance, to prevent the resurgence of Daesh while awaiting a political solution to the Syrian conflict.”
Macron expressed hope that “a dialogue can be established between the SDF and Turkey with help from France and the international community,” the statement said.
UPDATE March 30 According to AFP, Asya Abdullah told reporters at the press conference that France was planning on sending “new French troops to Manbij,” adding that “The cooperation will be reinforced.”
However, Macron’s office said in a Friday statement that “France is not planning any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside the international coalition against Daesh,” AFP reported.
A spokesperson for the French embassy in the U.S. directed The Defense Post to a statement from the president’s office, saying Macron “assured the SDF of France’s support, particularly with respect to the stabilization of the security zone in northeastern Syria, as part of a system of inclusive, balanced governance, to prevent any resurgence on the part of Daesh pending a political solution to the Syrian conflict,” and that he reaffirmed that “following the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2401, France had clearly expressed its concern over the situation in Afrin district and demanded the full access of civilian populations to humanitarian aid.”
The defense ministry did not respond to request for comment.
Turkey on Friday dismissed Macron’s offer to help establish a dialogue, a move likely to further fuel tension with Paris, which has expressed clear concerns over an ongoing Turkish military.
“We are extremely saddened by France’s… wrong stance on this issue,” Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara.
“We reject any efforts to promote ‘dialogue’, ‘contact’ or ‘mediation’ between Turkey and those terrorist organisations,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.
“Turkey’s position on PKK/PYD/YPG, which seeks to legitimise itself as SDF, is perfectly clear,” Kalin said.
“The countries we consider friends and allies must take a clear stand against all forms of terrorism,” he said.
“The various names and disguises cannot hide the true identity of the terrorist organisation.”
Turkey’s Anadolu news agency later published a map of what it said were the locations of five French military bases in northern Syria and claimed more than 70 French special operations forces were in the country.
— Adrien Jaulmes (@AdrienJaulmes) March 29, 2018
Another delegate, Khaled Issa, the Paris representative of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, told Reuters that Macron promised to send more troops to the area and that France would provide humanitarian assistance and press for a diplomatic solution.
“There will be reinforcements to help secure from attacks by Islamic State and stop a foreign aggression,” Issa said. “It’s message that this irresponsible action from the Islamists in Ankara stops.”
“France is going to reinforce its military presence,” AFP reported Issa as saying.
According to the Marianne news magazine, Issa said: “Yes, France will help us militarily in Manbij and help us diplomatically so that the Turkish troops withdraw from Afrin.”
“Afrin is no longer alone,” Issa said, Le Figaro reported. “France has lived up to its commitment in the fight against terrorism.”
Très fier de la décision du président #macron d'envoyer des troupes en soutien aux forces Kurdes et à leurs alliés à #afrin #manbij et au #rojava, après une rencontre organisée aujourd'hui à l'Elysée
Conférence de presse en direct pic.twitter.com/wpxB1elm1c
— Augustin Laborde (@AugustinLaborde) March 29, 2018
According to ANF, the delegation included TEV-DEM Co-chair Asya Abdullah; Afrin Canton Executive Council Co-chair Hêvin Reşîd; Cizire Canton Foreign Affairs Council Co-chair Siham Qiryo; Cizirê Region Executive Council Member Faner Gaêt; Syrian Democratic Forces Foreign Affairs Official Rêdur Xelil, YPJ spokesperson Nesrin Abdullah and Northern Syria Autonomous Administration Representative for France, Dr. Khaled Issa.
— matthias second (@matthiassecond) March 29, 2018
Trump says US coming out of Syria ‘very soon’
Meanwhile, Trump said the U.S. would be coming out of Syria “very soon” and would “let the other people take care of it now.”
President Trump: "We'll be coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now…" pic.twitter.com/z4Fp8eibOE
— Navstéva زائر ? (@Navsteva) March 29, 2018
“By the way we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’re coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now, very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out. We’ll have 100 percent of the caliphate as they call it, sometimes referred to as land, we are taking it all back quickly, quickly,” Trump said.
“We’re going to be coming out of there real soon, going back to our country where we belong, where we want to be,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference shortly after Trump’s remarks, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert was asked if she was “aware of any policy determination to pull all – to pull the U.S. out of Syria?”
“I am not, no. No,” Nauert said.
“But I can say that, as a general matter, this administration looks to other countries to help out. Far too often, the United States has been the leading country in efforts, whether they be humanitarian efforts or leading fighting efforts to try to help out a country, save a country, or fight a war. So the United States, under this administration, looks for other parties to do more,” Nauert said.
On Friday, spokesperson Kino Gabriel told Reuters that the SDF had not been informed of any plan to withdraw U.S. forces operating in Syria.
“Our work and coordination (with the coalition) is continuing in the framework of the support program and joint operations in all regions,” Gabriel said.
Referring to Trump’s statement, Gabriel said it “was not clear”, adding “statements that came from other American officials in the American administration did not confirm that or deny it.”
This story is developing and has been frequently updated and edited on March 29 and 30 to add new information and clarify changing reports from French media.
With reporting from AFP