A class of professionally trained female recruits at training camp in northern Syria. Photo: US CENTCOM
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United States is showing continued support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, while Turkish officials have called for Kurdish fighters to leave the city of Manbij.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) tweeted photos of fighters after CENTCOM commander, Gen. Joseph Votel and Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of US forces in Iraq and Syria, visited a training range near the city of Kobani on the Turkish border.
Their visit comes a week after US Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made a visit to Kobani, then visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Most of our discussion focused on the situation in Syria. The change of administration in the United States presents an important opportunity to review and reassess current policy in Syria," a readout from McCain's website stated.
“The United States must work with Turkey to deal a rapid and lasting defeat to ISIL as part of a broader strategy to strengthen U.S. allies and partners, counter the malign influence of our adversaries, and build a favorable balance of power in the region. To that end, President Erdogan described a proposal to establish safe zones in Syria and retake Raqqa that should receive serious consideration by the United States."
The US-led coalition is providing air support, advice, training, and material to the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC), one of the elements fighting within the ethnically diverse SDF.
“The SAC is made of about 23,000 fighters, 13,000 of which are vetted. These are the only ones we train and equip,” the press office of the coalition confirmed to Rudaw English by email in early February.
In late January, the coalition and the SDF confirmed that the coalition had provided armored vehicles to the SAC.
The broadcasted US support for the SDF comes as Turkish officials called for Kurdish elements to leave northern Syria.
"We've told the Obama administration before that Manbij needs to be handed over to the Arabs and they told us that the PYD/YPG was leaving, but unfortunately they never left," the Daily Sabah quoted Erdogan as saying in an interview with Al Arabiya.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the dominant political party in northern Syria, and its armed wing comprises the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the majority force within the US-backed SDF. Turkey views the YPG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as one in the same. The PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States.
SDF fighters, under the umbrella of the Manbij Military Council, conducted operations in the summer of 2016 during which it successfully recaptured Manbij from ISIS militants. SDF declared the operation had liberated more than 170,000 civilians.
“The next step in the operation is to clear Manbij [east of Al-Bab] of terrorists,” Anadolu Agency quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying to reporters on Friday.
The foreign minister hoped the new US administration would keep the alleged promises made by the previous one.
New US President Donald Trump gave Department of Defense officials 30 days in late January to come up with proposals regarding a plan to fight ISIS.
“We had said to our American friends ‘Keep your promises’ and they said ‘After the end of Manbij operation, YPG [fighters] will retreat to the east of Euphrates River’,” Cavusoglu reportedly said.
“That was what the previous administration promised us. They did not keep their promises.”