Turkish forces will not enter Manbij city centre - Pentagon spokesperson

The implementation of a roadmap agreed by Turkey and United States over the northern Syrian city of Manbij requires complex preparations, but the Turkish forces will never enter Manbij’s city center,  Hürriyet reported Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon as saying on Wednesday.

The Manbij roadmap was first announced following a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Washington in June, following months of negotiations. The deal focuses on the withdrawal from Manbij of Syrian Kurdish forces of the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group which has been fighting inside Turkey since mid-1980s. 

The United States meanwhile has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up mainly of YPG fighters, as the main force combating Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. Manbij has been administered by the Manbij Military Council (MMC), an SDF-affiliated group since its liberation from ISIS in August 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan complained on Sep. 5 that  the Manjib roadmap was not proceeding as planned.

The Turkish military said on Aug. 19 that Turkey and the United States had begun joint patrols in Manbij in accordance with the roadmap agreement, but U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Aug. 28 that the two countries were getting close to a point that would enable combined patrols.

“This is a very complex issue and has been trying to be solved. We have sent Turkey equipment for trainings, established a training ground, and also sent personnel,” Pahon told Hürriyet, adding that logistic planning required for the security of joint patrols takes time.  

Pahon also noted that Turkey and the United States has been working on to solve problems regarding the composition of MMC.

“Turkey says there are PKK members in MMC. The long process we are in, is a process for eliminating those members,” Pahon said. “We don’t want to empty this institution totally. We have to identify the persons which everyone agrees to work with,” he added. 

Pahon ruled out the possibility of joint US-Turkish patrols inside Manbij city centre.”Turks will not enter Manbij in the foreseeable future. They will not be inside the city centre,” he said, adding that joint patrols will take place at the outskirts of the city.  

Pahon said that the United States did not object to Turkey’s plans to secure its southeastern border by sending Free Syrian Army fighters inside Syria and establishing humanitarian buffer zones, against the Syrian government’s coming military offensive in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in the country. 

“If this is what needs to be done for Turkey to ensure its security and as long as it does not impede our actions, while doing that, we have nothing to say,” Pahon said.