Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkish and U.S. officials had reached an agreement on the status of the Kurdish-held town of Manbij in northern Syria.
Manbij has threatened to become a flashpoint between the United States and Turkey as Turkish leaders have pledged to capture the town after completing an offensive against the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin to the west, The United States has troops stationed in Afrin to train Kurdish forces to fight Islamic State (ISIS) and U.S. military chiefs have said they would robustly respond to any attack.
Turkish and American troops will provide security in Manbij after the withdrawal of the mainly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces from Manbij and both countries will oversee the withdrawal process, Çavuşoğlu said.
Turkey and the United States have been discussing a possible solution to the status of Manbij city since the Obama administration. Turkey says it was given assurances by the United States side that Syrian Kurdish forces would not cross to the west of the River Euphrates where Manbij lies, but the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the YPG, captured the town from Islamic State in 2016.
Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organisation and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey since 1984. The YPG denies any direct link to the PKK. The United States lists the PKK as a terrorist group, but arms and trains the SDF.
Turkish-led forces launched a military operation into Afrin on Jan. 20, arguing YPG forces in the city pose a threat to its own cities. According to local reports, Turkish-led forces are now on the outskirts of Afrin.
“Disaster might follow if Turkey decides to take over Afrin city centre,” Steven Heydemann, one of the United States’ most prominent Syria scholars, told AhvalTV last week, adding that it might bring “generations of conflict”.
Çavuşoğlu said working groups set up after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara last month would work on bringing stability to other northern Syrian cities where YPG forces are present. Turkish and U.S. officials are working on a timetable to implement these plans, he said. The next meeting is set for March 19.
The U.S. administration has yet to confirm Çavuşoğlu’s remarks.