Jun 11 2018

U.S.-Turkish road map for Syria’s Manbij not so clear, report

The meaning of the agreement between the United States and Turkey over the northern Syrian city of Manbij has been distorted in announcements made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, journalist Akdoğan Ӧzkan suggested in an article on Turkish news website T24.

Following the agreement, announced on June 4, Çavuşoğlu publicly promoted it as ensuring that the Kurdish-dominated People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which captured Manbij from Islamic State (ISIS) in 2016 and which Turkey considers an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), would promptly withdraw from the city.

But the reality of the agreement may be less clear-cut. Ӧzkan said scrutiny of the text revealed the agreement was not really a road map, but merely asserted that joint US-Turkish study groups, set up earlier this year to resolve tensions over Manbij, would “continue their studies”.

In fact, Ӧzkan wrote, the text appeared designed to appease both Ankara and the Kurdish groups occupying Manbij, which the United States has helped nearly rid Syria of ISIS.

In short, Ӧzkan said the agreement over Manbij was unlikely to result in Kurdish forces leaving the city anytime soon and Turkish officials, despite their public pronouncements, were likely aware of this.

That may explain recent media reports in the Turkish press suggesting Turkey would soon unleash a major military offensive against the PKK stronghold of Qandil, its main base in mountainous northeast Iraq, as twin parliamentary and presidential elections approach on June 24 and the government seeks to shore up its support among nationalist voters. 

Reports of a looming military operation against Qandil have increased in frequency in recent weeks, whereas reports suggesting Turkey would take military action against Manbij have become less frequent.