Mar 28 2018

Turkey-backed FSA poised for attack on Syria’s Manbij

More than 10,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters allied to Turkey have completed most of their preparations for an offensive against the Kurdish-controlled Syrian district of Manbij and are awaiting orders from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to begin, the Turkish pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper said on Tuesday.

Erdoğan’s threats to extend Turkey’s military campaign in northern Syria to Manbij have raised tensions with the United States, which has troops in the area training mainly Kurdish forces to fight Islamic State (ISIS). 

Turkish troops, backed by Islamist FSA fighters seized the Syrian town of Afrin on March 18 after a two-month offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces, but, unlike in Manbij, there was no U.S. presence in the area.

FSA forces believe the flat geography around Manbij will make it easier to seize than Afrin and the operation can be completed in 10 days, Yeni Şafak said. 

Turkey sees the Syrian Kurdish militia – the People’s Protection Units (YPG) - as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

The YPG denies any direct link to the PKK and has made up the bulk of U.S.-backed forces that have all but defeated ISIS in northern Syria. The United States says Turkey’s offensive against the YPG is weakening the fight to eliminate the remnants of ISIS.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said a mutual understanding on the fate of Manbij had been reached with the United States, but U.S. officials have denied there is such an agreement.