Alwaght- Turkey and the US have agreed on details of a disarming and withdrawal of US-backed Kurdish militias from Syria’s northern city of Manbij, which has been a source of tension between the two NATO allies for months
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was in Washington on Monday, meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss Syria as well as US-Turkish relations.
The top Turkish and American diplomats in a joint statement said that they had considered “taking steps to ensure the security and stability in Manbij”.
“They endorsed a road map to this end and underlined their mutual commitment to its implementation, reflecting their agreement to closely follow developments on the ground,” the statement read.
At the press conference following the meeting with Pompeo, however, Cavusoglu was far more direct. The city of Manbij would be secured by both Turkish and US forces, he said, and the roadmap will be implemented in other parts of Syria as well.
The Turkish FM said Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia will be stripped of their weapons when withdrawing from Manbij and declared that further US support for the Kurdish YPG militia was “unacceptable” .
Firstly, he said, the road map focuses on “common plans for the removal of YPG-PYD from Manbij - you can also call it PKK.”
“In the long term, this road map that will implemented in Manbij will be carried to other regions to implement security and stability in other regions in Syria. Meaning the cooperation will continue in other regions,” he added.
Ahead of his visit to Washington, the top Turkish diplomat denounced the US alliance with the YPG as a “grave mistake,” saying, “They (the Americans) have preferred to work with that terrorist organization in Syria.”
Ties between Ankara and Washington have further soured over the latter’s support for Kurdish militants of the YPG operating at the Turkish doorstep.
Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist group and an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but the US considers the Kurdish group an ally in Syria.
The US angered Turkey by announcing a plan for the formation of a Kurdish militant force in Syria near the Turkish border, prompting Ankara in January to launch a military operation against the US-backed militants.
Earlier this year, Turkey seized the Syrian city of Afrin and threatened to expand its offensive to Manbij.
Ankara has repeatedly accused Washington of failing to fulfill its promise regarding the withdrawal of its allied militants from Manbij after the purge of the ISIS terrorist group in August 2016.
Cavusoglu said the planned Turkish purchase of F-35 fighter jets has not been canceled or delayed, and that Turkey will not tolerate any pressure regarding the purchase of military equipment. Washington has sought to leverage the F-35 deal to stop Ankara’s plans to acquire the Russian S-400 air defense system, with Pompeo telling the Senate in April that efforts were under way to “keep the Turks in a place where they will never acquire the S-400.”
The details of the roadmap, as described by the Turkish side, appear to meet what Cavusoglu demanded in January, when Ankara launched a second incursion into Syria, this time against the Kurdish militias in Afrin.
Turkey had previously sent troops into Syria in August 2016, following the liberation of Manbij by the SDF. The operation, dubbed “Euphrates Shield,” failed to gain control of the city, as the SDF linked up with the Syrian Army and its Russian allies. Just like the US presence in Syria, neither Turkish incursion was legal under international law, and was condemned by Damascus as an act of aggression.
Ankara’s demands that the US stop supporting the Kurds grew louder as relations between the two allies deteriorated in the wake of the abortive 2015 military coup in Turkey. While paying lip service to Turkey’s importance as a NATO member and regional ally, the US continued to back the Kurds as an effective local proxy force against IS.
Last week, the Pentagon warned against attacking the SDF and the US forces embedded with them, after Syrian President Bashar Assad told the government will seek to reclaim all of Syria one way or another. While he did mention the US forces illegally stationed in part of Syria, it was unclear whether the warning also applied to Turkey.