Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). AFP photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly seek to continue their advance against Islamic State (ISIS) militants along the Syrian border with Turkey and link-up with the westernmost Syrian Kurdish canton, Afrin, following their successful liberation of Manbij.
After two months of laying siege to Manbij the SDF successfully liberated the city on Friday. The remaining ISIS militants there fled back to the Turkish border with civilians they had taken as human shields. The liberation of Manbij effectively cuts off ISIS’s Raqqa stronghold completely from that border.
A Kurdish affairs analyst who has regular contact with the SDF, Mutlu Civiroglu, told Germany’s Deutsche Welle on Sunday that the SDF’s primary aim is to link up with Afrin and clear remaining ISIS militants along the border instead of capturing Raqqa, which is the ultimate goal of the US-led coalition in Syria.
That coalition has been giving the SDF air support throughout its offensives against ISIS.
“The SDF desires to go west to Afrin, which has been under political and economic embargo by the al-Nusra Front and other Turkey supported groups for over two years,” Civiroglu said.
Turkey opposed the Syrian Kurds advancing along Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey Ankara does not want to see the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) – the foremost armed group in the SDF – dominate Syria’s border with Turkey, given its links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
However, a secret agreement was reached between the US and Turkey in May in which Ankara agreed to acquiesce to an SDF offensive against Manbij, provided Arab members of that coalition did the bulk of the fighting (with the YPG playing a supporting role) and an Arab council would govern the city following its liberation.
The Pentagon’s Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Trowbridge was asked about this promise on Friday in light of the successful liberation of the city. He said the US government recognizes Turkish concerns, adding that, “Manbij is historically an Arab city. It is our expectation that after its liberation is completed that will continue.”
Trowbridge went on to add that the US has been talking to the Manbij Military Council about how they will go about bringing back civilian control to the city.