Apr 02 2018

Turkey U.S. stand off continues in Manbij

NATO allies Turkey and the United States are on opposite sides of the frontline in Syria’s Manbij, wrote Sarah El Deeb in the New Jersey Herald.

The town just east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria, has been the scene of a tense standoff for months as Turkey and its allies in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) eye up military action against Kurdish forces that have controlled the town since 2016.

Turkish has long threatened to take action against Kurdish groups in Syria that it considers terrorist organisations due to their links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency in Turkey for decades. In February words turned to actions as Turkey launched an operation to occupy Afrin another part of Syria that Kurdish groups controlled. Now that Afrin has been captured, all eyes are focused on Manbij.

Capturing Manbij would be a more difficult proposition for Turkey and its allies than the successfully concluded Afrin operation. Unlike Afrin, U.S. troops are present in Manbij and have long co-operated with Kurdish forces in the region in the fight against ISIS.

Despite continuing Turkish threats and warnings, and indeed U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent comments that the U.S. would soon withdraw from Syria, U.S. forces in Manbij show little sign of leaving.

Last Thursday, writes El Deeb, a Kurdish commander named Abu Ali Nejm, said U.S. troops have increased their presence "in a noticeable way", even as Turkish allies on the other side of the front line harass opponents with small arms fire, trying to provoke a confrontation. "They (the U.S. troops) have become part of the front line to reassure the people in Manbij and the military forces and to raise morale” said Abu Ali.

U.S. Col. Ryan Dillon backed up the assertions, saying, "Our patrols move around. They are not static," he said. "The purpose of our forces is to prevent the re-emergence of (IS militants)" and prevent "any type of incursion from any other group in the area."

But tensions continue to rise, even as the U.S. and Turkey hold talks that aim to defuse the volatile situation. France has recently been drawn into the fray, with its President Emmanuel Macron promising last week to support the same Kurdish groups Turkey seeks to crush in Syria.

Last Thursday, a bomb in Manbij killed an American and a Briton. Kurdish officials have pointed the finger of blame at Turkey and its allies, accusing them of carrying out acts of violence around Manbij in an attempt to sow instability.