Military sources from within the Kurdish militias said they will hand over some of the villages southern Manbij to Assad regime while Russian sources said that the regime will take over the administrative parts of the city.
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.
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, in addition to controlling large swathes of land in northern Syria.
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. Recently, they launched an assault on Deir Ezzor province to cut the road to Raqqa and surrounding ISIS effectively.
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey and started its own military operations to end both ISIS and Kurdish “threat” near its borders.
Reaching the Kurdish-held areas
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Feb. 27 the army had captured some two dozen villages from Islamic State, bringing it to the edge of SDF-held areas south of Manbij.
The regime’s advance has taken place to the south of an area where Turkey and its rebel allies are having their own battles.
Assad regime forces have now come to the edge of a swathe of territory dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, which has mostly avoided conflict with Damascus.
The advance, if sustained, could open a trade lifeline between the northeast, which is home to 70 percent of Syria’s oil and to rich farmland, and the west, where Syria’s manufacturing base is located.
The spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), hailed the regime forces’ advance and ruled out any risk of a clash with them.
This advance and close relation could lead to military alliance between the two sides who oppose Turkey’s intervention and aims in Syria. Together, they may be able to repell Turkey’s advancement to Manbij and undermine its plans in retrieving Raqqa and creating safe zones in northern Syria.
Handing Manbij over to the regime
The Military Council for Manbij City which is allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Thursday its intention to surrender villages which it controls to Assad regime forces.
The council said in a statement that under an agreement with Russia it would deliver the areas to the regime to confront “the Turkish ambitions to occupy more Syrian territory,” as he put it.
“We are committed to keeping our vow and doing everything possible to protect the interests and security of our people and families in Manbij,” the statement said adding that the council had made an agreement with Russia to hand over the villages on the front line with the Turkish-backed army near al-Bab in the western part of the city to Syrian regime forces.
Syrian regime border guards “will defend the line dividing the Manbij military council forces and the areas under the control of Turkey and the Euphrates Shield.”
However, Russian sources said that the regime forces will take over whole Manbij and resume basic services in its administrative part.
Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the Russian General Staff’s main operations department, said in a press conference that as a result of negotiations, the PYD has accepted handing over Manbij and its surrounding area to the Assad regime.
In the press conference, which was held in Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Rudskoy stated that the regime would start providing basic government functions in the area starting March 3.
Defense Minister Fikri Işık said in a speech that ISIS had first retreated from several areas in anticipation of the regime’s takeover, and now, the YPG is retreating from other areas to make way for the regime which will protect them and seek a achieving a mutual agenda.
“This is, in fact, a development that proves our claim on the regime, the YPG and ISIS cooperating at times,” Işık said.
Expected war with Turkey
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
Erdogan said he wants to set up a safe zone near the Turkish border and clear the terrorism threat, which includes Kurdish forces as well as ISIS, from the area.
Therefore, Turkey sought to cast the YPG out of Manbij and to be the efficient part in Raqqa battle, and Turkish presedent has spoken about these matters with the US president Donald Trump recently
“Manbij and Raqqah are our next targets,” Erdogan said, adding that “The goal is to establish a safe, terror-free zone of 4 to 5,000 kilometers, and to prevent migration from Syria, and ensure the return of [Syrian] people who live now in our camps.”
Asad regime has long opposed Turkey’s military operation in Syria calling them “breach of sovereignty” and called Turkish forces to retreat. Therefore creating an alliance with the Kurdish forces to achieve their mutual goals would benifit the both sides.
Abdul Karim Saroukhan, head of a Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria, said Turkey was afraid of the “democratic model” established in northern Syria and was trying to block it. He said that while the Kurdish-led administration wanted to deal with Turkey as a neighbor, Ankara was making threats and occupying Syrian land.
“If Turkey continues in this way, in this vein, it will be the start of a new war in Syria, in the north,” he said.
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.
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.”
Ilham Ehmed, co-leader of the Syrian Democratic Council, also declared similar comments.
“The military council and locals will mount fierce resistance if Manbij is attacked,” she told Sputnik news.
“Turkey has chosen the administration created in northern Syria as a direct target for its attacks. Turkey has openly stated that it is determined to launch an attack on the territory controlled by Kurdish forces. … Turkey has said that it plans to capture Manbij and Afrin after al-Bab,” she noted. Ankara has said that its Operation Euphrates Shield is primarily aimed at fighting ISIS, “however, there are no ISIS fighters in Manbij,” she added.
Ilham Ehmed suggested that Turkey is “not interested” in bringing peace and stability to Syria.
“Ankara is trying to take Syria under control by seizing Manbij and other regions. This lies at the heart of its intervention and combat operations in Syria,” she said.
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.