Our troops are not leaving Manbij - US Spokesperson
"U.S. troops are in Manbij to keep the peace, and our troops are not leaving," a U.S. spokesperson told Ahval on Wednesday.
This statement is much sharper than the message the Pentagon had been conveying to reporters earlier this week. A spokesperson in an email message to Ahval, said, "Our recent talks with Turkish counterparts were intensive and productive. Throughout, we emphasized the importance of working together to achieve our shared objectives in Syria, including the durable defeat of ISIS and a diplomatic solution for Manbij."
It appears that the U.S. administration draws the line at Manbij, even if the U.S. did not strongly oppose Turkey's Afrin operation.
The United States "has no right" to be in the Syrian region of Manbij, where Turkey would be continuing its Syrian operations after capturing the town of Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quoted by state news agency Anadolu as saying on Wednesday.
“They (say they) are not going to withdraw from Manbij. For once forget withdrawing, you have no right to be there (in the first place).”
Earlier in the day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has backtracked on saying Turkey had reached an agreement with the United States over the Kurdish-controlled Syrian town of Manbij, a potential flashpoint between Washington and Ankara after Turkish leaders threatened to capture the area where U.S. troops are training Kurdish fighters.
"We did not say we had an agreement with the U.S. We said we have reached an understanding," Çavuşoğlu said after a telephone conversation with outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Ahval's understanding with the U.S. administration officials that the U.S. administration does not see any understanding, or does not differentiate between an agreement and an understanding, as the Turkish Foreign Minister apparently argues.
Wednesday statement coming from the U.S. State Department spokesperson is, probably for the first time, clearly indicated that the U.S. forces is now withdrawing from Manbij.
Speaking to K24, Kurdish news agency, a senior US State Department official gave a slightly different comment on Manbij, said, “We remain in Manbij, and we remain working with our partners there on the ground," adding, "We have no intention of leaving,” she continued, “and we’ll keep staying there as long as we need to.”
At the end of the first meeting of joint U.S.-Turkish working groups set up after Tillerson's visit to Ankara in February, the Turkish side declared that both sides had reached an agreement over Manbij. The U.S. side however never confirmed these reports and now openly denies that U.S. forces have any intention to leave.
Talking to K24, the State Department official also revealed that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan spoke with his Turkish counterpart over the weekend, a “follow-up conversation” that was part of the mechanism established by Tillerson and Erdogan.