Turkish security council resolved to take Manbij

Turkey’s top military policy body, the National Security Council has declared a firm resolve to attack the northwest Syrian town of Manbij unless Kurdish forces withdraw from the area.

In an effort to drive armed Kurdish forces affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) away from its borders, Turkey invaded Afrin, an area to the west of Manbij, on Jan. 20, three days after the council greenlighted the operation in a similar statement.

With the capture of Afrin complete on Mar. 18, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan turned his attention – and bellicose rhetoric – towards Manbij, which is controlled by groups linked to the PKK-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“Unless the terrorists leave Manbij immediately, Turkey will not hesitate to take the initiative there, as it has done in other regions,” read the council’s statement, signalling a readiness to go beyond rhetoric.

The issue of Manbij has been a particularly critical one due to the presence of U.S. troops, who deployed there after the area was reclaimed from the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2016. The United States views the YPG and its affiliates as crucial allies in the fight against ISIS, and the coalition has set up a training hub for in the area to serve that purpose.

While Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has claimed that the two countries have reached an agreement over Manbij, the United States denies this, and last week made a strong statement refusing to leave the area.

The National Security Council’s statement, and the reports on Tuesday that Turkey’s Syrian allies the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have made preparations to attack the area, lend Manbij the potential to be a huge flashpoint between the NATO allies.

A Pentagon spokesperson responded to Ahval's enquiry about the U.S. position on the council's statement, saying that the two countries should stick to the diplomatic working groups set up to resolve the Manbij issue by former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a crisis meeting in February.

"We are not going to get ahead of the process and speculate on potential outcomes or proposals," said Pentagon spokesperson Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway. "The specifics will emerge out of the work by our diplomats and experts as we allow these groups to come and work together."

The 4 and-a-half hour council meeting, attended by President Erdoğan and top government and military leaders, also produced a statement on northern Iraq, where groups linked to the PKK reportedly have a strong presence around the Sinjar region and the Qandil mountains.

The PKK declared it was withdrawing from Sinjar last week after Erdoğan threatened a military strike. However, the council has declared its intention to push the matter further.

“The (PKK) organisation is poised to attack us from various locations inside Iraq, including Sinjar and Qandil,” read the statement. “If the Iraqi state is unable to prevent its activities, Turkey will do so itself.”