Forces of the Manbij Military Council are on guard in the city’s bazaar on December 29, 2018. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – There is no plan for Syrian government troops to enter Manbij, the spokesperson for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said on Saturday.
“We have just called on the Syria army to come and protect the territorial integrity of the Syrian land and our talks have been in this context, not for them to enter Manbij city,” Nuri Mahmoud said in an interview with Rudaw TV.
Around 300 regime troops have been deployed to the Manbij area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But they have not entered the city.
“The Syrian army is not going to enter Manbij city or its surrounding villages. There are no Syrian troops at the moment inside Manbij city,” said Mahmoud.
“They are going to be stationed outside the cities to protect the integrity of Syria.”
The Manbij Military Council – a local force of Arabs and Kurds backed by the US-led coalition – is in control of the city. They fear that an anticipated US withdrawal will leave them vulnerable to an attack by Turkey, who considers the Kurdish groups terrorists with ties to the PKK.
Turkish forces and their allied Syrian militias have gathered to the north and west of Manbij, threatening to launch an attack. Ziyad Haji Ubed, a commander within the militias, said they have 15,000 fighters ready to enter Manbij.
Local residents said they would prefer regime forces
in their city over the militias backed by Turkey, who one man described as “thieves.”
US President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that he had ordered a rapid withdrawal of some 2,000 American soldiers from Syria. Facing harsh criticism for getting out of the country before the defeat of ISIS and leaving their Kurdish allies exposed, Trump later walked back his initial pronouncement and said the withdrawal would be slow and coordinated.
US troops are still at their positions in Manbij.
YPG spokesperson Nuri Mahmoud. Photo: Rudaw
Mahmoud said they have not yet made any moves to leave.
“Until now there have been no practical steps made by the Americans to withdraw from northern Syria, it is just a decision,” he said.
“The Americans have not even received advice as to how they should withdraw and from where,” he added.
US commanders are reportedly drafting a plan for the withdrawal and they favour allowing the YPG to keep the weapons
provided for the war on ISIS.
Mahmoud did not comment on that proposal, but said, “Weapons that Americans brought with them to Syria have been used and are being used in the fight against ISIS.”
When the US began arming the YPG, they tried to assuage Turkey’s objections by promising to take back all weaponry once ISIS was defeated.
The YPG, under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is still fighting ISIS in Deir ez-Zor province.
They are battling on several axes in the Euphrates River valley, progressing slowly as they fend off ISIS counter-attacks.