The United States has decided to reposition its military presence in some areas, including Manbij, where the U.S.-backed People's Protection Units (YPG) have shifted the focus from fighting against Daesh terrorists to the fight in Afrin against Turkey's Operation Olive Branch forces.
Director of the U.S. Joint Staff Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie announced the decision to reinforce U.S. troops on Thursday, saying: "I could tell you that we have probably done some repositioning to make sure of our own force protection, both down south, as well up – as up in Manbij."
U.S. officials had previously said that members of the YPG, the armed force of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, had left the fight against Daesh in large numbers to move to Afrin. Dismissing Turkey's warning that the YPG is operationally linked with the PKK, a group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and Turkey, Washington continues to work with the YPG as a partner in the fight against Daesh. Much of the YPG functions under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
McKenzie's remarks came at a joint press conference with Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White. Describing the situation in the southern Euphrates River Valley, McKenzie said the mobilization of the YPG-led SDF to Afrin decelerated the fight against Daesh in the region,
"And that has had an effect on our ability to finish off ISIS in the lower Euphrates River Valley. It has slowed the pace of our advance." ISIS is another acronym used for Daesh. "I would not say that ISIS is gaining any momentum, but I would instead say the inevitable conclusion of this has been slowed by the fact that not so much rank and file, but some leadership has moved back up to the north."
Speaking of continuing conflicts in the region, McKenzie also said they are following the developments closely.
In response to a question from Anadolu Agency (AA) on whether the U.S. has discussed the SDF's repositioning to Afrin with the group, he said U.S. forces have good communication with them, but the repositioning decision was made by the SDF, not the U.S.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to eliminate the YPG presence in Afrin, which poses a threat to Turkey's national security. Ankara has also vowed to clear the YPG from areas east of the Euphrates and Manbij to its west, which is currently under YPG control. There are also some U.S. troops positioned in and around Manbij.
Erdoğan calls on US
to withdraw from Manbij
The efforts to establish a secure future for Syrians in Manbij will be much easier if the U.S. and the People's Protection Units (YPG) leave the region, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday.
"The U.S. was in Manbij to kick out Daesh. Now there is no Daesh there," Erdoğan said, criticizing the U.S. support for the PKK-affiliated YPG under the guise of a fight against Daesh, and the U.S. presence in northern Syria's Manbij.
The northern Syrian city of Manbij has been one of the most hotly debated points of discussion between Turkey and the U.S.
Ankara had requested the U.S., beginning with former President Barack Obama, to withdraw the YPG from areas east of the Euphrates and Manbij, and to stop supporting the group militarily. The U.S. had promised to meet Turkey's demands, but has not so far, which has strained relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has said talks on the future of Manbij between Turkish and the U.S. officials are continuing and an agreement has not yet been reached.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the talks on the issue are continuing.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on March 9 that Turkey and the U.S. had reached a common understanding on stabilizing Manbij and areas east of the Euphrates, adding that the issue will further be discussed during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 19. However, now that Tillerson has been fired, the meeting has been canceled and a new meeting has been scheduled for March 21, which will be held between high-level officials from the NATO allies in Washington.