Eric Pahon, a US Department of Defense spokesperson for Iraq and Syria, speaks to Rudaw in Brussels, Belgium, on June 8, 2018. Photo: Rudaw TV
BRUSSELS, Belgium — Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesperson underscored that "bilateral roadmap" reached by the United States and Turkey is a "huge step forward."
"We are encouraged. This is great dialogue between the US and our NATO ally Turkey and we look forward to this increased cooperation," Pahon told Rudaw on Friday.
He spoke to Rudaw on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters in Belgium.
"This is a commitment to work forward in Manbij to come to a resolution that both addresses Turkey's legitimate security concerns, the needs of the people in Manbij, a push forward for local representative governance that suites everybody that's involved," added Pahon.
Top Turkish and US diplomats agreed on a path forward in the northern Syrian city of Manbij on Tuesday, although details were scant.
Ankara's primary concern is the presence of People's Protection Units (YPG) in the city west of the Euphrates. Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a listed terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.
The YPG have formed the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
"They have fought valiantly. They have sacrificed greatly to retake lands in Syria," said Pahon of the SDF.
The US is concerned of an ISIS resurgence or evolution, if they completely pull out of Manbij, where they maintain a base as part of the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition.
"What we don't want to see is that resurgence of ISIS, so we still have quite some time to get to where we need to be. So for the foreseeable future, we'll be working in conjunction with the SDF," Pahon added.
Military and civil councils have been established in major population centers liberated by the SDF.
"We have to make sure that those small ISIS elements that squeezed out during the original taking back of land don't come back to cause a problem for the people there," Pahon said.
The YPG announced on Tuesday it had withdrawn its military advisors from Manbij; however, a spokesperson later told Rudaw that "YPG artillery in Manbij belongs to Manbij Military Council."
Turkey has repeatedly called for the US to collect weapons provided to the YPG during the ISIS conflict, and it makes no distinction between the PKK, YPG, and SDF.
Pahon reiterated support for the SDF is "conditions-based."
According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the plan will take place over three stages and will be concluded within six months