YPG to withdraw military advisors from contested city of Manbij following US-Turkey negotiations

AMMAN: A Syrian Kurdish militia announced on Tuesday that it would withdraw the last of its forces from the north Aleppo city of Manbij, one day after Turkey and the United States agreed upon a “road map” for the future of the contested settlement.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) “has decided to withdraw military advisors” from Manbij, a city 30 km south of Syria’s border with Turkey, the Kurdish militia’s general command said in an online statement on Tuesday.

The military advisors were the only YPG members who remained in the city of Manbij after the city was captured from the Islamic State (IS) by United States-backed Syrian forces in 2016, the general command said.

Turkish-American relations reached a boiling point over the past year due to the latter’s support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multi-ethnic coalition of which the YPG is a leading component.

Ankara considers the YPG and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), to be offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

US-backed coalition forces in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. Photo by Delil Souleiman/AFP.

Ankara threatened earlier this year to launch a military operation against YPG fighters in Manbij city despite the presence of US-led coalition forces in the area.

But on Monday, the US and Turkey released a joint statement announcing the two countries had reached a bilateral agreement “to ensure security and stability in Manbij…[and] endorsed a road map to this end.”

The statement, published online by the US State Department, followed a meeting between Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington DC on Monday.

The terms of the deal over Manbij remain unclear, though Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu told reporters on Tuesday that the road map meant “YPG/PKK terrorists will be disarmed,” Ankara’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The YPG did not refer to any Manbij roadmap in its statement announcing the withdrawal of military advisors, which came just one day after the US-Turkey statement.

Instead, the militia attributed the withdrawal to the self-reliance of the Manbij Military Council (MMC), a body established in the city by the SDF in 2016 that is primarily composed of local Arab and Kurdish fighters.

The YPG advisors’ purpose over the past two years was to provide “advice and training” to the MMC, which, according to Tuesday’s statement, “has become self-sufficient.”

Embed from Getty Images

Turkish Foreign Ministry Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Pompeo meet in Washington on Monday. Photo courtesy of Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images.

No timeline has been announced for the withdrawal of YPG forces from Manbij. Syria Direct contacted three separate spokespeople for the YPG on Tuesday for details on the implementation and impact of the withdrawal but did not receive a response by time of publication.

MMC spokesperson Shervan Darwish told Syria Direct on Tuesday that some advisors had already withdrawn, “while others are preparing to leave.”

Darwish added that he had not yet received any official terms or details from the YPG regarding implementation of Tuesday’s decision, nor had he received the terms of any US-Turkey “road map” for the city.

Both Manbij and the nearby Afrin region, roughly 100 km to the west—which Ankara-backed rebels seized from YPG fighters in March—have been two major flashpoints for Turkish confrontation with the Syrian Kurdish militia.

However, the Turkish government expressed its intent earlier this year to dislodge YPG fighters from Syrian territories along the border to the east that remain under Kurdish control.  

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, speaking to reporters in Turkey’s southern Antalya province on Tuesday, said the US-Ankara agreement over the city of Manbij would be a “a model” for territories with a YPG presence along Syria’s northern border, Anadolu Agency reported.

“A similar model will be applied to other areas of Syria occupied by the terrorist YPG,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011. Follow Ammar on Twitter: @Ammar_Hamou.

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman. Follow Mohammad on Twitter: @mohamma59717689.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.

Alice Al Maleh

Alice Al Maleh holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from University of Copenhagen. She has studied Arabic independently since 2013 and most recently with Sijal Institute in 2017-2018.