Jan 18 2019

Manbij promises not kept, Turkish defence minister tells U.S. Senator Graham

The United States has failed to remove Kurdish forces from Manbij and keep its side of the “roadmap” agreed on by Turkish and U.S. officials last year, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has told Lindsay Graham during a visit to Ankara by the U.S. senator.

"The promises made in Manbij weren't kept, the YPG and PKK are two sides of the same coin, and Turkey is fighting PKK/YPG, Daesh and FETO terror groups," Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Akar as saying at the meeting on Friday.

Ankara has long aired its concerns over the U.S. support of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group the Turkish government counts as a terrorist organisation due to its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.

The United States deployed troops alongside YPG forces in Syria in the military campaign against the Islamic State, which is known regionally as Daesh.

The “roadmap” agreed last June included assurances from the United States that YPG forces would be removed from Manbij, a town in northern Syria close to areas of Turkish control, but Ankara believes the group remains in control of the town.

Graham’s visit to Turkey came amid attempts by the two sides to reach an agreement on the expected withdrawal of U.S. forces. U.S. President Donald Trump announced his plans to immediately withdraw the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops deployed in Syria last December, but concerns raised by U.S. officials, including Graham, that a withdrawal would abandon their Kurdish allies to a Turkish attack have resulted in a delay.

This week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has discussed the creation of a 20-mile “safe zone” south of the Turkish-Syrian border, though details of how this would be set up remain unclear.

During the meeting on Friday, Akar told Graham that Turkey “would not allow the establishment of a terror corridor along its southern border and the two countries would solve the problems by working together,” Anadolu reported.

Graham also met Erdoğan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during his visit on Friday, and attended a performance by Turkish pianist Fazıl Say as a guest of the president.