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Kurdish fighters’ withdrawal will not resolve Manbij conundrum, US envoy says

Kurdish fighters’ withdrawal east of the Euphrates river in Syria is not going to resolve the “incredibly complex” situation in the Manbij area, U.S.-led Coalition Envoy Brett McGurk said at a U.S. Institute of Peace event in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the U.S.-led Coalition against Islamic State, recaptured majority-Arab Manbij from the terrorists in August 2016. Control of Manbij was handed to the SDF-aligned Manbij Military Council.

The mainly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) makes up the backbone of the SDF, but Turkey sees the group as terrorists inextricably linked to the outlawed Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Ankara has been long calling for the YPG fighters to withdraw east of the Euphrates river in Syria. Turkey has also threatened to push its troops to Manbij, despite the U.S. forces presence in the area.

“The complexity of this [Manbij situation] is not just U.S.-Turkey conversation, it is on the ground in Syria. Within Manbij you have…these are mostly people from Manbij, there are Arabs that live in Manbij, but the people working with the Turks are also from Manbij, but they have a very different orientation,” McGurk said.

The envoy explained that many of the opposition groups outside of Manbij have a “more Islamist orientation, where in Manbij right now some women are covered, some are not. It is a much more, for lack of better word, secular environment.”

“That’s a very deep ideological divide. That makes the problem harder than just ‘hey, we got to get the Kurds over the river and everything will be fine.’ We have to work through this diplomatically with our NATO allies and Turks,” McGurk said.

The U.S. has a “very good dialogue” with Ankara, the envoy added. However, he underscored the importance of keeping eyes on the prize, because “ISIS isn’t finished.”

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U.S. Central Command head General Joseph Votel also said that Washington was very engaged with Turkey.

“We are in a very robust dialogue with Turkey … We are very much engaged with them. My objective is to continue to make sure we have that good open line of communication,” he stated.

With tensions between Ankara and Washington still high over Turkish activities in northern Syria, Turkey’s state-run news agency stated on Tuesday that the United States is setting up two military bases in the Manbij region near the “frontline” where Manbij Military Council control ends south of Dadat.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to expand Turkey’s operation in Syria to Manbij, raising fears of a confrontation with the forces of NATO ally the United States.

Anadolu said that 300 American troops had arrived to reinforce Manbij in anticipation of a possible Turkish operation.

This is not the first time Anadolu has revealed details of alleged American positions in northern Syria. In July 2017, it published an article giving details on U.S. bases in Syria with information on troop numbers and aircraft.

Washington expressed grave concern, but Turkish officials expressed indignation at the notion the information had been leaked from official sources.


With reporting from AFP

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