AKP spokesperson slams U.S. for Manbij delay

The United States has been stalling in implementing its agreement to remove Kurdish militants from the northern Syrian area of Manbij, and this is a “growing problem” for Turkey, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said during a press briefing on Wednesday.

Manbij became a flashpoint that threatened to throw the already strained U.S.-Turkish relations into open conflict earlier this year, when Turkish officials threatened to attack Kurdish militias in the area allied to the United States, which has special forces troops deployed there.

The Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are seen as an important ally in Syria by the United States. Turkey, however, views the group as a serious security threat due to its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group seeking Kurdish self-rule that is defined as a terrorist organisation by both countries.

Turkey launched an operation against YPG forces in Afrin, an area west of Manbij, and made a series of threats to extend the operation to the east until a “roadmap” was signed with the United States in June.

However, the United States has employed “stalling tactics” to delay the implementation of the roadmap, which stated that the Kurdish forces must fully withdraw from the area before joint patrols began within 90 days of the signing of the agreement – a period that passed over a month ago.

“They keep putting it off for one reason or another. We want to put this to an end,” said Kalın, calling for the roadmap to be implemented as quickly as possible.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, reiterated on Tuesday that Turkish and U.S. forces were close to beginning joint patrols, which he said would commence after a training period of several weeks.

However, the statement is unlikely to satisfy the Turkish government, which wishes to see moves towards a complete end of U.S. support for the YPG as well as much faster progress in Manbij.

With the extremist jihadist Islamic State defeated in Syria, the United States no longer has a reason to support the group, said Kalın.

Kalın also said Turkey had made good progress in another important international agreement in Syria, the demilitarisation deal in Idlib, the last major rebel holdout in the country.

Turkey signed a deal with Russia to prevent an assault by the Syrian regime and its allies on the province, agreeing to create a 15 to 20 kilometre demilitarised buffer zone separating armed opposition groups and regime forces.

Turkey’s part in the deal is to ensure that radical groups and heavy weaponry are removed from the buffer zone by October 15. Kalın said the demilitarised zone has already effectively been created, and said Turkey was committed to keeping it secure.