No details on Turkey-US cooperation on Manbij: Ministry
Emine Kart - ANKARAWhile once more acknowledging the presence of an ongoing bilateral military cooperation with the United States concerning the operation on Manbij, the stronghold of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has declined to provide details about this cooperation.
In a written statement released on July 6, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç recalled Turkish media reports in print and visual media which were shared on July 6 and referred to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s interview with French daily Le Monde on July 4.
“On [the] Manbij issue, Turkey has struck a secret military agreement with the U.S.,” Çavuşoğlu was quoted as telling Le Monde in the interview, Bilgiç said.
Çavuşoğlu had actually responded by saying “the issue was a cooperation issue between the military ranks of the two countries” and he “could not give information on details of the military cooperation,” when asked about “the shape of the agreement which Turkey had struck with the U.S. on the issue of Manbij,” said Bilgiç.
“In his interview, Mr. Minister [Çavuşoğlu] did not use an expression in a way [which indicated] that a secret military agreement with the U.S. on the issue of Manbij had been struck,” Bilgiç concluded.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s “correction of the misquotation” of Çavuşoğlu came in the form of an official answer by the spokesperson to a journalist’s question.
A U.S.-backed alliance of Kurds and Arabs has been locked in battle in the neighboring province of Aleppo for control of Manbij for more than one month.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance launched the offensive in late May, encircled the town and entered its southwestern districts on June 23.
Ballout report in As-Safir
In the second half of June, Mohammad Ballout, writing in Lebanese daily As-Safir, reported that American and Turkish officials and leaders from the SDF had come together at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey before the initiation of the Manbij operation.
During the meeting, the list of units which would participate in the Manbij operation had been discussed and the United States had taken a step on the ongoing conflict between Turkish security forces and militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which were reignited in July 2015, Ballout said. The U.S. persuaded Turkey to put jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan under house arrest and resume talks with Öcalan on the Kurdish issue, it also said.
No info from Operation Inherent Resolve
Turkish Foreign Ministry officials has not yet provided a response since being approached by Hürriyet Daily News on June 22 in order to have a confirmation or denial on the accuracy of the report confirmed.
When asked “whether they could confirm the accuracy of the As-Safir report and, if they could, whether they might like to comment on this aspect of the Manbij operation,” the Public Affairs Department of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (CJTF-OIR) briefly responded on June 24, saying, “We do not have any information to provide on this topic at this time.”
Operation Inherent Resolve is the U.S.-led operation to eliminate ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria and the wider international community.
Turkey is among the coalition nations, along with the United States, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, which have conducted strikes in Syria.
Serving a life sentence at İmralı Island Prison in the Marmara Sea after he was captured by Turkish security forces in Kenya in 1999, Öcalan played a central role in a peace process between Turkey’s security forces and the PKK which crumbled in July 2015 and led to fresh clashes in a number of different towns and cities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish-populated southeastern provinces, with Turkish security forces imposing controversial curfews on a number of predominantly Kurdish cities, contributing to a spike in tensions.
As part of the initiative aimed at ending the three-decade long conflict, Öcalan had been in dialogue with state officials, the Kurdish-problem focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its predecessor, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).