A U.S. military official said on Sunday that U.S.-Turkish joint patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij will be starting soon in line with the deal between the two countries.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) told reporters that Turkish and American troops could begin conducting joint patrols in a matter of days around Manbij.
The U.S. and Turkey have been conducting independent patrols along the border, though joint patrols have yet to be conducted. At the beginning of the month, Turkish and U.S. forces began training for joint patrols to ensure they could communicate, work together and operate with the same military tactics and procedures.
"We're right on track with where we want to be," Votel was quoted as saying by The Associated Press (AP). "We've been through a very deliberate and mutually agreed upon training program."
Following the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın also confirmed that the training in southern Gaziantep province will be completed and joint patrols would begin soon.
According to the AP report, he said the platoons will include security personnel. He did not provide details on the size of the units or how many U.S. and Turkish forces will be involved in the program. U.S. platoons can often include a few dozen soldiers. The Manbij agreement was inked between Turkey and the U.S. in early June that foresaw a three-month timetable for the withdrawal of the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) from the northeastern Syrian province and joint patrols to be conducted by the militaries of both countries in order to establish stability in the region.
Meanwhile, a nine person U.S. delegation, including officials from the Department of State, held a two-hour meeting over the weekend with representatives of the PKK terrorist organization in Manbij.
The U.S. delegation visited YPG-controlled Al-Hasakah and Manbij over the weekend, and met with military and political representatives of the terrorist group. The delegation reportedly advised the YPG not to halt the withdrawal process during the joint patrols.
Manbij has been a major sticking point in the strained relations between Turkey and the U.S., due to the latter's support of the YPG under the pretext of fighting Daesh. The YPG has organic organizational and operational links with the PKK, a group considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU, and Turkey. The U.S. had provided military training and given truckloads of military support including radars systems to the YPG, despite Ankara's security concerns.
The slow progress in the implementation of the Manbij deal is also causing distress in Ankara, as the terrorist group continues to tighten its grip on these areas by establishing political entities thanks to the delays on the part of the U.S. The YPG has also constructed trenches and embankments in areas surrounding the entire city center and started to control the entries and departures from the city, hinting at their wish to stay in the city.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said last week the directive to ensure security in Manbij has been fulfilled and political screening would begin soon.
The city is currently administered by a city council which predominantly consists of PKK-associated people. Turkey wants the political administration of Manbij to be eliminated and insists that the Manbij city council be run by groups in line with their ratio of representation, pointing to past censuses in the city, before demographic changes in the area. Manbij used to be considered a predominantly Arab city.
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