Joint Turkey-US training in Syria's Manbij will start soon: CENTCOM
The head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on July 19 said training for a joint Turkish-American patrol on the frontlines of the northern Syrian city of Manbij will soon start.
"As part of the diplomatic road map, we will soon begin the necessary training to conduct joint combined patrols along portions of the demarcation line in this extremely complex environment," said Gen. Joseph Votel, referring to the Manbij roadmap reached after months of tensions between the two countries that are also strategic NATO allies.
The roadmap which was announced last month after a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu and his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo, focuses on the withdrawal of the Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij and stability in the region.
The Turkish army on July 18 conducted its 16th round of patrols in the city as part of the deal with the U.S.
In a written statement, the Turkish General Staff announced forces from both countries coordinated patrols in the region between areas liberated by Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield and Manbij. The first patrols began June 18.
Giving details via a teleconference call to reporters at the Pentagon, Votel said the U.S. continues coordinated patrols with Turkey to ensure long-term stability in the city and to implement a diplomatically agreed arrangement that addresses mutual security interests.
Responding to a question whether he was advised about any U.S.-Russian agreements and cooperation on Syria as a result of a summit this week between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Votel said CENTCOM had not received new guidance as a result of what happened in Finland.
He noted that current laws prohibit coordinating, synchronizing and collaborating with Russian forces a move that needs approval from Congress.
"I have not asked for that at this point," he noted, adding that the U.S. continues communication with Russian commanders to ensure safety of American troops and compliance with U.S. international obligations.
On Iran’s presence in Syria, Votel said the U.S. does not have a mission that is directly focused on Iran and the only intention the U.S. has right now is to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
When asked whether CENTCOM supports the rapprochement between the the People's Protection Units/ Kurdistan Workers' Party (YPG/PKK), and the Syrian regime, he said the U.S. does not encourage the group to engage with the regime.
"But, of course, we do recognize the pragmatic reality that plays out on the ground. That is a fact of life in this particular area," he added.
Should the Manbij model prove a success, Turkey will push for a similar arrangement in eastern Syria, state-run Anadolu Agency has reported.
Turkey has said the presence of terror forces near its border constitutes a threat and has launched military operations and other efforts to rid the region of terrorists.
The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has ousted ISIL from swathes of Syria with help from the U.S.-led coalition.