Turkey and US agree plan for YPG withdrawal from Syria’s Manbij

Kurdish military commander says Washington and Ankara’s plans for flashpoint northern city are premature

Turkey and the United States have agreed on a roadmap for Syria’s Manbij that would see the Kurdish YPG militia leave the northern city, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said on Wednesday.

US support of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has enraged Washington’s NATO partner Turkey, which considers the militia part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The YPG have played an integral part in efforts, supported by an international coalition, to roll back the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. The PKK has waged a decades-long insurrection in Turkey.

Manbij, a majority-Arab town near the Turkish border, was wrested from IS control by the YPG and its allies in the Syrian Defence Forces in 2016.

The Kurdish presence there has been a point of contention for some Syrian Arab groups, who say the YPG has designs on keeping control of the city, and Turkey, which wants to clear the border areas of the YPG.

The Syrian government, Kurdish militants, Syrian rebel groups, Turkey and the United States all have a military presence in northern Syria, with Manbij a potential flashpoint.

According to Anadolu, Ankara and Washington have reached a technical agreement on a three-step plan for the YPG’s withdrawal from the city.

If the plan goes ahead, the YPG will withdraw from Manbij 30 days after the deal is signed, Anadolu said.

The plan is to be finalised during a visit by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Washington on 4 June.

Forty-five days after the agreement is signed, Turkish and US military forces will begin joint supervision in the city, with a local administration to be formed after 60 days, Anadolu said.

Cavusoglu was quoted by media earlier on Wednesday as saying that, if finalised, the plan for Manbij could be applied throughout northern Syria.

However, a local Manbij official later told Reuters that the foreign minister’s assertions that US and Turkish forces would temporarily control the region were “premature” and lacked credibility.