Yaşar Yakış
Jun 07 2018

A more difficult stage might follow the Manbij roadmap

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu agreed on June 4 on a road map for the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the northern Syrian district of Manbij to the east of River Euphrates.

To secure this result without resorting to military force is a major achievement for Turkey. Trying to keep Turkey in the Euro-Atlantic fold played an important role in this achievement. Another major achievement is to persuade the United States that the bilateral agreement should not be submitted for congressional approval where anti-Turkey sentiments are strong. Çavuşoğlu said it was difficult to give a firm calendar, but that the withdrawal would be completed within a few months.

Staying in Manbij was important for the YPG, because its fighters cleared the district of Islamic State (ISIS). However, the areas that the United States was trying to keep under its control were the oil-rich provinces to the east of the Euphrates, so it was not difficult to fulfil Turkey’s expectations. Furthermore, it was difficult for the United States to insist on keeping YPG forces in Manbij, because Kurds constitute less than 10 percent of the district’s population.  

The military forces that controls Manbij is dominated by YPG fighters and Turkey has conveyed to U.S. authorities evidences proving the strong links between this organisation and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a listed terrorist organisation Turkey has been fighting for more than three decades. The United States still considers the YPG as the most reliable partner in its fight against ISIS.

The first stage of the road map will be to determine the parameters of the joint plan to be applied for ousting the YPG fighters from the district.  

Difficulties may be expected when the members, or at least the leading figures of the YPG as terrorist by Turkey, will be forced to leave Manbij. Many of them may be from this district and their expulsion from their hometown may raise objections by the United States and fierce objection from the YPG.

The second stage of the road map will be drawing up plans aimed at the expulsion of YPG members from the local administration. This stage may also involve the forced expulsion of some Kurds from their hometown.

At the final stage, Turkish and American patrols will assume the responsibility of securing peace and security in the district.  

A more difficult stage will come after the Manbij agreement is fully implemented. When all YPG fighters move to the east of Euphrates, they may pose a more serious threat to Turkey, firstly because there will be a higher concentration of Kurdish fighters; secondly, the United States has no commitment to use its leverage against Kurdish fighters to the east of the Euphrates.

On the contrary, the United States needs the YPG’s fighting force for keeping these oil-rich regions as a bargaining chip in its negotiations for the aftermath of the Syrian crisis. Bearing in mind the strong support that the United States extends to Kurds, an increased concentration of Kurdish fighters to the east of Euphrates may become a major headache for Turkey, especially in light of Turkey’s declared intention to extend its military action to these regions.

The east of Euphrates is a region where the United States is eager to hold the control. The present terrorist infrastructure that threatens Turkey’s national interests in Syria was prepared with the contribution of the CIA where the present state secretary served as its chief.

Russia is supporting the Kurds and the territorial integrity of Syria. Iran will try to contain the Kurds and lend support to the Syrian regime for control of the region. France will try to be an actor in the region by deploying military force under the guise of fighting terrorism. The attitude of the Arab citizens of Manbij towards Turkey, after the YPG is eliminated in the district, is full of uncertainties.

In such a complicated environment, Turkey will need a lot of diplomatic skills to extend military operations to the east of the Euphrates.