– The U.S. military said Wednesday that the PKK/PYD elements in the northern Syrian town of Manbij has begun to withdraw, contradicting previous statements and a tweet from a presidential envoy that said the group would leave after training local fighters, reported Anadolu Agency.
Tension between Turkey and the U.S. has persisted for months regarding when all elements affiliated with the PKK terror group would leave Manbij — located on the western banks of the Euphrates River — and cross back to the eastern banks after they helped local Arab forces liberate the town from Daesh. The Pentagon had previously said the fighters left the city.
Despite Ankara’s insistence the U.S. keep its promise to leave the predominantly Arab town to locals, President Barack Obama’s special envoy supervising the counter Daesh fight, Brett McGurk, tweeted that YPG fighters will leave after the training of local forces is complete.
But while speaking to Pentagon reporters via videoconference from Baghdad, anti-Daesh coalition spokesman, Col. John Dorrian, caused additional confusion by saying YPG elements have just started to move out of the town.
“My understanding is they were departing and they were doing that today. But as far as whether every single one of them is gone, I would be very uncomfortable saying every single one,” Dorrian said after pressed by Anadolu Agency to reconcile what he said with McGurk’s tweet.
Dorrian insisted the Pentagon has said from the beginning that YPG leadership elements would withdraw from Manbij but leave trainers to groom local fighters.
It appears, however, that it was the first time the U.S. military disclosed that YPG elements would train local forces in Manbij.
US Special Envoy to Syria Brett McGurk had tweeted: “Milestone: all #YPG units to depart Manbij & return east of Euphrates after local units complete training to maintain security after #ISIL.”
The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD, which is the Syrian wing of PKK. Turkey, the U.S. and the EU have listed the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Turkey has long called for the removal of the PKK/PYD from territory to the west of the Euphrates to prevent the group seizing territory across most of Turkey’s border with Syria. In September, the Pentagon said the group was withdrawing but Turkish intelligence reported that it remained in the region.
Local forces are now expected to provide security in areas cleared of Daesh.
“Our coalition is proud to train and support local forces to defend their home areas as the best formula to ensure ISIL can never return,” McGurk said, using an alternative acronym for Daesh.
He also tweeted that Syrian Democratic Forces, who are spearheaded by the YPG, were heading to Raqqah, Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria, while anti-Daesh forces were advancing into Mosul, the group’s stronghold in Iraq.
Dorrian also commented on Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army’s movement toward the Daesh stronghold in northwestern Syrian town of al-Bab.
He said it would not take time for those Syrian opposition forces to take over the town from Daesh.
“They’ve not yet moved into al-Bab and taken the city, but they are very, very close –encountering some very pretty tough resistance. They do expect to be able to power through that,” he said.
According to Dorrian, the coalition has not been a part of the Turkish advance toward al-Bab and has not given air support to Turkish-backed forces.