All eyes on Manbij as more forces deployed near Syrian flashpoint
FSA fighters are pictured in the back of their trucks as they leave the rebel-held northern Syrian town of Jarabulus.
The northern Syrian town of Manbij has become a focal point of the post-U.S. troop pullout plans as actors on the field deploy their forces in the region.
The Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Dec. 26 continued to move its members toward to YPG-held town, one day after forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad entered Arimah in the western countryside of Manbij region in coordination with the YPG.
Following a brief meeting with the heads of the YPG, 40 pickup trucks carrying regime forces, two tanks, trucks carrying equipment and armored vehicles carrying other staff entered Arimah, Anadolu Agency reported, citing unnamed local sources.
While FSA forces also close down on the town, the Turkish military continued to reinforce its troops along the Syrian border.
The situation in Manbij will be one of the main questions in the aftermath of the U.S. pullout.
The town is controlled by the YPG, which Turkey considers an offshoot of the illegal PKK and a terrorist group.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU, and the U.S., however, Washington has widely used YPG militants in the fight against ISIL in Syria despite Ankara’s protests.
Turkey and the U.S. agreed on June 4 over a road map for the withdrawal of all YPG troops from Manbij to the east of Euphrates and for the establishment of a new city council by local Arabs, however, the deal has not been completely implemented.
On Dec. 19, U.S. President Donald Trump announced Washington’s decision to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Trump later said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has assured him that Turkey will finish off ISIL.
Erdoğan signaled earlier this month that a cross-border operation against the YPG will happen soon. Since 2016, Ankara has carried out two similar military operations in northern Syria with the help of FSA members.
Although a military operation seems to have been shelved for now following Trump’s surprise decision, Turkey has made it clear that it will never tolerate the presence of the YPG on its borders even if it comes to an agreement with the Syrian regime to maintain control of the east of Euphrates River.
“We will never hesitate in eliminating terrorists from our border even though the YPG agreed with the Syrian regime and if they control the area together. Our duty is to eliminate this threat on our national security by whomever this terrorist organization is being controlled,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told journalists in Ankara on Dec. 25.
Çavuşoğlu also said Turkey was in talks with the U.S. and Russia “to avoid the potential penetration of terror groups, like the YPG and ISIL” into the areas to be evacuated by the U.S. troops.
While Turkey also opposes the regime forces gaining ground in the areas held by the YPG, Russia said Dec. 26 that the regions where the U.S. troops will evacuate should be controlled by the Syrian regime.
“An essential question arises: Who will inherit control over the territories vacated by the Americans? Obviously, that should be the Syrian government, in accordance with international law and considering the path that Syria and the Syrian people have travelled down,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a press conference in Moscow.
“We closely coordinate our views and the implementation of a concrete policy in Syria with our Turkish colleagues,” Zakharova added.