Syrian government forces near Manbij in northern Syria. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — An operation in the northern Syrian city of Manbij would be not be in the interest of Turkey without internationally coordinating with Russia and the United States, Turkey’s prime minister said, amid speculation of a Turkish operation against the Manbij Military Council (MMC).
"Without coordination with the United States and Russia, conducting an operation in Manbij is meaningless," Binali Yildirim told A Haber, adding that on this matter the Turkish side has continuous discussions with these two sides.
Last week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said ridding Manbij of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) would be the next target after al-Bab in Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation.
Syrian forces are now in control of a group of villages west of Manbij along a frontline with Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces as per an agreement brokered by Russia following clashes between the FSA and Manbij forces, which have continued for a sixth day on Monday.
“The handover has taken place,” the spokesperson for the Manbij Military Council, Shervan Derwish, told Reuters.
The deal to hand over territory to Damascus includes about five villages, Derwish said earlier on Monday, Reuters reported.
On Monday, the MMC announced that clashes with the FSA occurred in the village of Awlashli, marking a sixth day of confrontation between the two forces. It also noted that Turkey was carrying out reconnaissance flights over the area in the villages of Elan and Buqhaz.
A statement issued by the Council on Sunday said that the area being handed over “only comprises of the border line of the Arima region and Euphrates Shield.” Al-Arima is located about 20 kilometres west of Manbij.
The United States stationed forces inside and to the west of Manbij starting last week as “a visible sign of deterrence and reassurance,” Reuters reported Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis as saying on Monday. "There is not a need for others to advance on it in attempts to 'liberate' it."
As clashes took place between the FSA and the Manbij forces, the US showed explicit support for the MMC, deploying US special forces to the Manbij area in a “deliberate action” to reassure their allies and “deter aggression,” spokesperson for the US-led global anti-ISIS coalition Col. John Dorrian stated on twitter on Thursday.
The Manbij Military Council, a local council formed last summer by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to oversee the liberation of the city from ISIS and its subsequent security, announced on Thursday that it had reached a deal with Russia to hand over control of area west of Manbij to Syrian forces in order to “protect civilians.”
"The latest information we have about Manbij is that [Syrian] regime forces entered the city, and the YPG is leaving. This is not a negative development for us. We don't want a YPG presence in Manbij," the Daily Sabah newspaper reported Yildirim as saying on Saturday. ''After all, Syria belongs to Syrians.The Syrian regime's takeover of Manbij is not a negative development for Turkey.”
"We don't have any contact with the Syrian regime with an aim to have discussions about the future of Syria. For us, it's also not right to have these talks, and we are not planning to have any in the future. Russia and Iran have direct contacts in this matter," Yıldırım reportedly told the Daily Sabah, while pointing out that the main aim of the Geneva peace talks is to establish a permanent peace.