ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The US-led Coalition who supports the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria in their fight against ISIS has told Rudaw that they will continue to stay in the Kurdish-held Manbij, just hours after Turkey warned the United States to remove their troops stationed there immediately.
Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the Coalition, told Rudaw TV on Saturday evening that they have been very “transparent” with Turkey over the delivery of equipment to the SDF force within the frame of the ISIS war. He praised the SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters in northern Syria for their war against the extremist group.
“Turkey knows where our forces are in Manbij, and what they are doing there, and why they are there –to prevent any kind of escalation between the groups who are in that area,” Dillon said.
Ankara claimed on Saturday that the US National Security Adviser HR McMaster “confirmed” during a Friday phone call with the spokesperson of the Turkish presidency that the US will no longer provide weapons to the YPG, the backbone of the SDF force in Syria.
“The Coalition will continue to support our Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS. We have said this all along, and we have said this with the Kurdish elements of the SDF. We will provide them equipment as necessary to defeat Daesh,” Dillon said of their support to the SDF who spearheaded the operation to liberate areas in northern Syria including Raqqa.
He explained though “This equipment [provided to SDF] is especially for the fight against ISIS.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister also on Saturday requested the US military to remove their troops stationed in Manbij “immediately,” a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the so-called Operation Olive Branch may continue all the way to the Iraqi border with Syria including Manbij.
The SDF, backed by the Coalition, liberated the town from ISIS militants in August 2016.
“Manbij is now thriving,” Dillon said.
“It is getting back to life. There are projects and stabilization efforts that are a model for other areas that had been held by ISIS in the past. So we will continue to operate there until told to do otherwise.”
He said that the Coalition and their SDF partners on the ground are still fighting ISIS in the Middle Euphrates Valley, adding that clashes continue on a daily basis with casualties from both sides, ISIS and SDF.
ISIS militants are still in control of 2 percent of territory they once controlled when they first emerged in 2014, a fact that necessitates the Coalition’s support on the ground to the SDF, Dillon said.
“ISIS is still a threat to the region, still a threat to Turkey,” he said about the ISIS threat in the Middle East, and to the outside world.
The Coalition is determined to remain focused on the fight against ISIS along with their SDF partner forces.
“Our partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces have done a remarkable job by doing exactly that,” he said about the commitment of the Kurdish-led force in Syria in the war against ISIS.
No other force took the fight against ISIS like the SDF, and are continuing to do that to achieve a “lasting defeat of ISIS,” Dillon said in praise of the SDF record in Syria.
He explained that the Coalition believes that preventing the reemergence of ISIS is just as important, and therefore they will continue to provide training and equipment to local forces in liberated areas including in Syria such as Raqqa and Manbij, two areas under the Kurdish control.
“After an area has been cleared, there are hold forces that would maintain security in that area, and we also provide the training and the equipping for Internal Security Forces,” Dillon said as he mentioned Raqqa, Manbij and Tabqa as examples for doing so.
“The Coalition will continue to support our Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS. We have said this all along, and we have said this with the Kurdish elements of the SDF. We will provide them equipment as necessary to defeat Daesh,” Dillon said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Turkish military operations have continued on Saturday for the eighth day in a row against the Kurdish-held canton of Afrin in northwestern Syria on the border with Turkey. Ankara, backed by the so-called Free Syrian Army, wants to drive out US-backed Kurdish militants, the YPG, from the border strip.
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organization, though no other country, including the US shares the same designation for the Kurdish force.
The Turkish military incursion has made little to no progress despite days of intensive artillery and airstrikes conducted against the Kurdish held areas in Afrin.
The two sides have reported inflicting great damage on one another, but tend to lower their own casualties.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have reported the deaths of at least 38 civilians since the operation began last Saturday, two were killed by the SDF.
Both Ankara and SDF deny they ever target civilians.
The United Nations stated they were “alarmed” as they reported that at least 11 children were killed.
Health workers in Afrin warned that they fear the operation, if continued, would lead to a humanitarian “tragedy.”
"Medication and humanitarian aid necessary to help civilians will soon run out," said Khalil Sabri Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Afrin.