The United States reiterated that the Manjib road map agreed upon with Turkey is on track despite reports of preparations being made by the People's Protection Units (YPG) for a likely conflict with Turkey in northern Syria's Manbij.
Speaking to reporters via teleconference, Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said: "We are on track with where we need to be with the Manbij road map. Many of those times we highlighted that this is a conditions-based approach to this. But I do assess we are on the track where we need to be with respect to that," referring to Turkish government's complaints regarding delays in the implementation of the plan.
Yet, according to recent media reports, the YPG, the PKK terrorist group's Syrian affiliate, is planning to retain its control over the city and has been preparing for a likely Turkish operation since July, despite the Manbij agreement. Satellite pictures of the city revealed that YPG forces dug 29.3 kilometers of ditches around the city. The terrorist organization controls the city's entries and departures through these ditches. Tunnels linking the ditches enable the group to move freely.
The YPG forces first acquired the city in 2016 with the help of U.S-led coalition forces. The Manjib deal was first announced in early June in a bid to establish security and stability in the city by clearing out the YPG forces. The deal envisages the withdrawal of the YPG from the city and joint patrols to be conducted by the militaries of both countries. The deal also set a three-month timetable to complete the tasks. However, Turkish and U.S. forces could only begin independent patrols in Manbij in June. Training for joint patrols began this week; however, joint patrols have yet to be conducted, let alone the expulsion of YPG elements from the city.
Ankara disappointed over postponement of Manbij deal
Turkey has long been criticizing the U.S. for dragging its feet on the execution of the deal. In relation to the issue, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously said: "The job is being delayed. We are not at an ideal point. The agreement we had reached is not being implemented in the right direction."
Accordingly, this week Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın blasted the U.S. by stating that there are always seems to be new postponements for implementing the deal, followed by excuses. Kalın also reiterated the call to the U.S. to halt its support of the YPG.
Commenting on the YPG presence in the city despite the Manbij deal, Votel underscored that the U.S. would work to ensure that they are removed. "My understanding is that most of the YPG, if not all of the YPG, is out of Manbij right now. But of course, as we continue to implement the road map, there are specific activities within that to ensure that is the case," Votel added.
Ankara has been infuriated by U.S. support for the YPG, which functions under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) under the pretext of fighting Daesh. The U.S. provided military training and truckloads of military support, including radars systems, to the YPG, disregarding Ankara's security concerns and sensitivities. The weapons are ultimately transferred to the PKK and used against Turkey. The PKK has been waging a terror campaign since the 1980s and is responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women and children.
The YPG's ultimate aim is to establish an autonomous region in northern Syria by connecting the northw
estern Afrin canton to the Kobani and Jazeera cantons in the northeast. In response to the YPG threat near its borders, Turkey launched two cross-border military campaigns with Syrian moderate opposition groups in the past two years.
In the wake of the U.S.' contradictory stance, Erdoğan vowed to expand Turkey's military campaign into the much larger YPG territory east of the Euphrates and possibly to Manbij, where the U.S. Army is positioned, if YPG forces are not eliminated from those areas.