US officials due in Turkey to coordinate pullout from Syria

US officials due in Turkey to coordinate pullout from Syria

ANKARA
US officials due in Turkey to coordinate pullout from Syria

This file photo taken on Dec. 30, 2018, shows a line of U.S. military vehicles in Syria's northern city of Manbij. The U.S. military has removed some equipment from Syria, a defense official confirmed on Jan. 10, following a report that the drawdown ordered by President Donald Trump is now underway. (Delil Souleiman / AFP)

The next meeting of the Turkey-U.S. Joint Working Group, tasked to coordinate the American troop withdrawal from Syria, will be held in Ankara on Feb. 28-March 1, according to a diplomatic source.

The U.S. pullout from Manbij, the east of the Euphrates, will top the agenda during the meeting, the source was quoted as saying by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on Feb. 26.

The U.S. has currently more than 2,000 troops deployed in Syria.

On Feb. 21, the White House said 200 troops will remain in Syria as part of a peacekeeping effort. However, a report published by The Washington Post said 400 troops will remain, with 200 in northeast Syria and another 200 at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria.

The base at al-Tanf has been viewed by some within the administration as a critical foil to Iran establishing a land route from Tehran to Damascus via Iraq.

Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said on Feb. 11 that pullout is likely to begin within weeks and that he expects no increase in U.S. troops in Iraq.

On the other hand, according to the American officials, the pullout is expected to be completed until summer, which will be driven by the situation on the ground.

Turkey objects to ‘multinational force’ option

On Feb. 13, the Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Washington will establish a multinational observer force to replace U.S. military in northeastern Syria.

A Turkish official, who spoke anonymously due to restrictions on talking to the media, recalled that Turkey is still a member of the U.S.-led coalition to fight against ISIL.

The official stressed the U.S. intention to give Turkey a symbolic place in the coalition observer force to prevent the country from having a powerful military presence in northeastern Syria.

Turkey, however, plans to push YPG militants at least 30-40 kilometers (18-24 miles) south of its border and to take military measures to block them.

The YPG dominates the SDF, an umbrella group acting as the ground armed forces of the anti-ISIL coalition. However, Turkey deems the YPG as an offshoot of the illegal PKK which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, U.S. and the EU.

US-Turkey joint investigations in Manbij continue

In line with the Manbij roadmap, joint investigations by Turkey and the U.S. are ongoing for the restructuring of civil and military councils in northern Syrian town of Manbij.

The Manbij deal between Turkey and the U.S. focuses on the withdrawal of YPG/PKK militants from the city to stabilize the region, which is located in the northern part of Syria’s Aleppo province.

Turkey wants quick realization of information sharing over the names and opposes the ones linked with the YPG to take posts in administrative units.

Turkish authorities urge the new administration to be set up in accordance with the demographic structure in the Arabic-majority region.

In order to implement the plan, the U.S. needs to push around 1,000 armed YPG members out of the city, the officials said.

Can Turkey intervene?

During negotiations in Ankara and Washington, Turkish delegation warned that if the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria occurred before reaching a mutual agreement in line with Turkey’s security concerns, Ankara would reserve its right to self-defense.

Since Washington declared the pullout decision in mid-December, Turkey has been drawing attention to the vacuum of power that the withdrawal process could create in the region.

Once the U.S. pulls out from the field, Bashar al-Assad regime forces, Iran and even Russian military police could enter the area unless there is an agreement with Ankara reached before the withdrawal.

Days after the pullout decision of the U.S., the YPG invited Assad regime forces to west of Manbij and handed over the control.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar have repeatedly vowed to carry out a counter-terror operation in Syria, east of the Euphrates, following two similar successful operations since 2016.

Syria, US-Turkey ties, Manbij roadmap, Northern Syria, withdrawal