Turkey and the U.S., the two NATO allies are planning to set up a joint task force to clear the northern Syrian town of Manbij off militants belonging to the PKK's Syrian offshoots Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing People's Protection Units (YPG), military sources talking to Daily Sabah confrimed.
Manbij, located 40 kilometers from the Turkish-Syrian border and some 30 kilometers west of Euphrates River, is a city of strategic importance. Back in May, the YPG-dominated Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an operation to liberate the city from Daesh, ultimately liberating the besieged city in August.
However, reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) claimed that despite its predominantly Arab population, the Kurdish militias had started repelling local Arabs and Turkmens from Manbij shortly after the city was liberated from Daesh.
Meanwhile, according to an Anadolu Agency (AA) report on Aug. 14, the PYD allegedly set fire to the land registry and civil registry buildings there in an attempt to alter the local demographics of the city. Consequently, in September Trukey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that Manbij belongs to its ethnic Arab majority.
Reiterating his strong opposition of the PYD and YPG presence in Manbij, Erdoğan on Sept. 19 said, "Although 95 percent of the area called Manbij belongs to the Arabs, they [the PYD and YPG] insisted on capturing it and move toward the north [Jarablus]."
Ankara had previously declared that a PKK-linked YPG expansion to west of the Euphrates River was a "red line." Moreover, Turkish officials consistently reiterated that the U.S. had guaranteed that YPG militants would not retain a presence west of the Euphrates River once counterterrorism operations against Daesh were complete in the region.
Therefore, the YPG's refusal to withdraw from the city of Manbij has now become one of the key issues brewing mistrust between Turkey and the U.S. Hence, countries actively sought solutions to restore confidence in the operations.Last week, Turkish media outlets reported that the U.S. and Turkey had both agreed on clearing Manbij off YPG under their supervision.
In response to questions regarding the issue, however, the U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner on Nov. 3 said that there is no new deal, ‘‘I've seen those reports. It's the first time I'm hearing about any kind of effort, so I can't confirm.'' He also claimed that the YPG has already withdrawn from the area.
Despite the U.S having announced several times that the YPG has withdrawn from Manbij, Turkish officials remain firm in their stance against an YPG presence in the region. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Tuesday said nearly 200 YPG fighters are yet to withdraw east of the Euphrates, while urging the U.S. to keep its promise on the matter, asserting that a lack of cooperation would force Turkey to take the "necessary actions."
Talking about the Operation Euphrates Shield and the YPG presence, Çavuşoğlu on Nov. 8 said, "Turkey still awaits the withdrawal of nearly 200 YPG militia members. Once we reach al-Bab, there will be roughly 11 kilometers left to the regime and there is no need for another clash with them. Aleppo has its own dynamics thus from there [al-Bab], we will go towards the east to Manbij. If the YPG does not withdraw, then we will take the necessary actions."
According to reports, this issue was one of the main topics of discussion during Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford's visit to Ankara on Nov.6. A Turkish delegation led by Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar discussed the YPG's presence in Manbij with Gen. Dunford during the meeting that lasted four-and-a-half-hours.At the meeting, both sides welcomed the idea of establishing a joint task force that will monitor the withdrawal of YPG militants from Manbij. The task force will reportedly include members from Turkish and U.S. foreign ministries, the armed forces and intelligence agencies. The task force will start its work in the coming days and Ankara expects the YPG withdrawal to be completed by the end of November, at the latest.
The Turkish delegation stressed the importance of success of the joint task force, noting that failure to remove the YPG presence in Manbij would result in Turkey clearing the city by use of its own military forces.
In the previous weeks, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had vowed once again that Turkey would sweep the PYD out of Manbij, saying, "We are determined to eradicate the PYD from Manbij."
Erdoğan on Oct. 26 had said, "We will do whatever necessary if [the YPG] does not retreat to the other side of the Euphrates River. Efforts are being made to form a terrorist corridor along [the Turkish-Syrian] border and we will not permit it."
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