Mar 03 2018

“US and Turkish troops might shoot each other” - Cockburn


For the control of Manbij city, “the U.S. and Turkish troops might shoot each other” said the Independent’s veteran middle east report Patrick Cockburn  on his March 2 article from the city of Manbij. Cockburn, in his latest piece, analyzes the escalating tension between Turkey and the US for the control of Manbij, a small city in northern Syria. 

Tensions between Turkey and the United States soared after the Turkish armed forces entered the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin on Jan. 20 to fight forces from the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG are considered a terrorist organization linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by Turkey, but the United States has been collaborating with YPG-affiliated fighters in its operations against ISIS, and has supplied them with weapons and military support, and deployed troops in an area near Afrin called Manbij, which also has a YPG presence.

The presence of U.S. forces in Manbij, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threats that Turkish forces would invade the area whether, caused a rift between the NATO partners that has still not been fully healed despite crisis talks between Tillerson and the Turkish leadership in February.

A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on March 5, 2017
A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on March 5, 2017

Cockburn points out that “Manbij is a good place to understand the jigsaw puzzle of competing fiefdoms into which Syria is now divided and the reasons why the multiple wars that have torn the country apart will go on for several more years”. He also adds that "What is interesting and perhaps ominous about Manbij is that control of this small city has become an issue that could see US and Turkish troops shooting at each other”.

Cockburn also depicts the presence of Americans in Manbij.

“The Americans in Manbij are certainly very visible and this is presumably intentional. We saw a convoy of five armoured vehicles, the lead one carrying the Stars and Stripes, racing towards Manbij from the bridge across the Euphrates. Mohammed Abu Adel, the leader of the Military Council, says the US soldiers never go into the city ‘but are very active in the frontlines’”.

Moreover, it appears that the impact of a potential Turkish attack is quite limited. 

“In the crosshairs of the Turkish army and its militia allies Manbij may be, but for all that it is a surprisingly bustling place. The streets are crowded and the shops are piled high with everything from oranges to wheelchairs. A few buildings have been reduced to heaps of rubble, blown up by US airstrikes targeting Isis during the siege of the city, but there is not the devastation that you see in the Kurdish city of Kobani on the other side of the Euphrates”.

Cockburn underlines that the situation in Syria is “even more complicated than is portrayed by those neat maps shown on television in which different factions are shaded in contrasting colours”, resembling “medieval Italy in which every city and town had its own distinct politics, along with some powerful foreign sponsor”.