US to remove YPG from Manbij ‘gradually’
The U.S. has agreed to “gradually” remove the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), from the disputed town of Manbij to east of the Euphrates, diplomatic sources who asked not to be named have told the Hürriyet Daily News. The nod came during two days of talks between delegations from the two countries in Washington on March 8-9 as part of a series of “working groups.” One ranking source was more specific, saying a final agreement on a plan could be reached during a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington scheduled for March 19.
The two ministers had agreed to set up the working groups to solve problems between the two NATO allies during their last meeting in Ankara on Feb. 16. In the first working group meeting there were ranking officials from the diplomatic, military and intelligence communities of Turkey and the U.S. Despite the fact that State Department spokeswomen Heather Nauert said ahead of the talks that Turkey’s ongoing operation in Syria’s YPG-held district of Afrin would be on the table, diplomatic sources said the “focus of the talks” was “Manbij and related issues.” Some Turkish media outlets reported that some members of the U.S. delegation wanted to open the Afrin issue but did not insist, as the Turkish delegation refused to discuss anything before U.S. promises on Manbij are delivered. My sources did not comment on whether that exchange actually took place.
They did, however, say the Americans acknowledged that Turkish forces would not accept working together with any member of the YPG/PKK, whether under the title of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or the Manbij Military Council. A middle way is now under exploration, focusing on whether some Arab groups within the Turkey-backed Free Syria Army (FSA) rebels and some Arab groups within the Manbij Military Council could work together in a “gradual transition” period.
Manbij was taken from the occupation of the Iraqi State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAESH in an Arabic acronym, in August 2016 by the U.S.-backed YPG militia that forms the main body of the SDF. Upon calls by Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, U.S. officials had vowed that once the town was taken from ISIL, the YPG would be moved to the east of the river as agreed, leaving the town under the control of the native, predominantly Arab population. Recent reports in the U.S. media have also indicated that the Arab population of Manbij has experienced serious problems of late due to the YPG’s attempts to forcibly settle Kurds under its influence there.
Diplomatic sources say other problematic issues between the two countries - including the continued activities of Pennsylvania-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt, will be discussed by the two sides in other working groups.