The Turkish military seeks, after retrieving al-Bab from ISIS, to capture the town of Manbij which is held by Kurdish militias and captured villages around it, while US military moved to protect the city and made a military base in it, according to Kurdish sources.
Turkey’s military operation in Syria named Euphrates Shield, which was launched last August to drive Islamic State militants from its border and prevent Kurdish fighters from gaining ground and strengthening their positions, has changed the balance of power in northern Syria and added more tension to the already complicated area.
The Syrian rebels, backed by Turkey, have managed to retake the ISIS stronghold of Jarabulus, alongside with al-Rai to the west and Dabiq city. Finally, they were able to force control on al-Bab on February 23 after months of siege and clashes.
Turkey’s operations against ISIS aim at ending the group’s existence near its borders and the group’s ability to pose threat to its internal peace, in addition to eliminating the YPG Kurdish militias who control large areas near Turkish border.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, is supported by the US as the latter uses them in its war against ISIS.
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition and a long fight by the SDF forces ended in recapturing Manbij from the control of the Islamic State (ISIS) group last year.
The SDF, backed by US coalition, launched also a campaign with the ultimate aim of capturing Raqqa in November and succeeded in encircling the city. However, Turkey was angered with these developments and sought, therefore, to cast the YPG out of Manbij and to be the efficient part in Raqqa battle.
Moving towards Manbij
Before retrieving Manbij, the Turkish president made it clear that their military campaign will continue.
“Al-Bab is about to be captured. Manbij and Raqqah are next,” Erdogan said, adding their number one priority was to form a safe zone in the country.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a few days ago that the area had to be cleared of YPG.
“There are YPG terrorists in Manbij. This place needs to be cleared of them. We’ve stressed this before. We sent a joint delegation. The people there all say the same thing.”
Cavusoglu said the YPG were persecuting people in Manbij and forcing for them into exile and even destroying all of their official documents.
“They are trying to build their own cantons around here. So Manbij needs to be cleared from the YPG,” he said, adding that the next target after Manbij will be Raqqa – the de facto capital of Daesh in Syria.
Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Wednesday captured villages of Tel Torin and Qarah Sharq, located 22 kilometres west of northern Syrian town of Manbij.
The new offensive is focused on a string of villages controlled by the Manbij Military Council, part of the US-backed SDF alliance.
A spokesman for the group, Sharfan Darwish, told reporters that the said villages were located 27 kilometres west of Manbij.
US military base in Manbij
The commander of Kurdish fighters in Manbij, Adnan Abu Amjad, said that his forces will fight to defend any move by Turkey to take over the area.
Erdogan said he wants to set up a safe zone near the Turkish border and clear all Kurdish forces from the area.
Abu Amjad said: “If Erdogan wants to come to Manbij, it’s his business, but we will defend our city with all the strength we can find. As Syrian people, we’ll resist any interference in our internal affairs.”
Other sources in the Kurdish militias’ ranks claimed that the US is “taking all necessary measures” to defend the Syrian city of Manbij from an attack by the Turkish military.
“In particular US servicemen have set up a military base in the city and are sending an additional contingent there. They are also deploying heavy weaponry and armored vehicles to the area,” the source said.
Alongside setting up the military base in Manbij, the US is deploying servicemen and armaments to the northern and western parts of the city.
“Turkey and the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) are getting ready for an attack on Manbij, and so we are getting ready to defend the city and are in constant talks with our ally, the US,” the SDF representative added.
He further explained that last week they had a meeting with Joseph Votel, the commander of the US Central Command (USCENTCOM), during which they discussed a security threat to Manbij coming from Turkey.
“We [SDF] have said that in case of an attack on the city will be forced to halt the operation to liberate Raqqa and will redeploy our forces to Manbij,” he said.
“In his turn, Votel assured us that the American side will take all necessary measures to prevent an attack by Turkish forces on the city,” he added.
“The US set up a military base in the city to be able to defend it from an attack by Turkish armed forces. The US flag was flown above the base. Flying the flag, he said, is a message, a warning to Turkey that the city is under the defense of the US,” he finalized his claims.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.