The United States is reportedly increasing its presence in northern Syria’s Manbij region against the possibility of clashes between American allies Turkey and Kurdish forces.
Dana White, the top spokesperson at the Pentagon, insisted the United States remains focused on fighting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
During a press briefing last Friday, White stressed that the American troops are “working with our NATO ally Turkey” to diffuse the situation and “continue to support the [Kurdish forces] as they continue to fight against ISIS.”
It remains unclear whether the U.S. will back its allies, the Kurdish fighters who lead and make up the majority of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) combating the ISIS threat, or stand out of the way of its NATO partner Turkey, which is seeking to conquer Kurdish-held Manbij.
The Pentagon has not responded to Breitbart News’s request for comment.
On January 20, Ankara launched an operation that successfully cleared northern Syria’s Afrin region of the U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ).
Arguing that the YPG is an extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) known to carry out attacks in Turkey, Ankara has threatened to push the YPG out of Manbij if it does not leave the area on its own accord.
Some news outlets have described the situation in Manbij as a “stand-off,” pitting the U.S. against Turkey.
Acknowledging that the two NATO allies are on opposing sides of the potential battle, the Associated Press (AP) reports:
Perched on a green hilltop, Kurdish and Arab fighters face a tense front line separating them from Turkish-backed forces in this part of northern Syria. Behind them, American troops drive up and down the roads. Their aim: Make their presence known to prevent bursts of gunfire from spiraling into a battle.
Down the hill and across a stream are the rival forces: Syrian opposition fighters. They have taken positions on a crossroads in the village of Halawanji and on rooftops with views up to the hill. Beyond them, on another hill, Turkish troops have a base, ready to back up their allies if needed.
This front line threatens to ignite at any time, with the militaries of two NATO members on opposing sides.
While the United States insists it remains committed to the fight against ISIS in Syria, American troops have increased their presence in the Manbij region “in a noticeable way” as Turkish-allied rebels nearby harass opponents with small arms fire, Abu Ali Nejm, a Kurdish commander who uses a nom de guerre, said last Thursday, according to AP.
“They [the U.S. troops] have become part of the front line to reassure the people in Manbij and the military forces and to raise morale,” Abu Ali claimed.
Echoing the Kurdish commander, Turkish state-owned Anadolu Agency reports that the U.S. is boosting its military presence in Manbij, noting:
The U.S. is taking measures against a possible counter-terror operation led by Turkey in Syria’s northern Manbij district. The U.S. has deployed military reinforcements to Manbij, west of Euphrates River, according to information Anadolu Agency received from trustworthy local sources in Manbij.
Approximately 300 U.S. soldiers arrived in Manbij in a convoy which included many armored vehicles and construction machines.
Acknowledging that American support for the YPG has strained U.S.-Turkey ties, the state-owned outlet notes that the situation in Manbij “has led to fears of potential clashes on the ground between troops of the two NATO allies, since there are roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in the city.”
Although Turkey and the United States have engaged in talks aimed at defusing the stand-off and “prevent any undesirable clashes,” Anadolu adds, “Due to the abrupt departure of former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who helped establish the working groups, the future of Manbij remains unknown.”
Echoing the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, the top Pentagon spokesperson emphasized that American military remains committed to the combating the jihadist group, noting that it still poses a threat.
White told reporters on Friday:
While the coalition has significantly degraded ISIS, important work remains to guarantee the lasting defeat of these violent extremists … We are working with our NATO ally Turkey to reassure them that we understand their security concerns and will appropriately address them as we fight ISIS together. But we must not become distracted and reduce the pressure on ISIS … We will continue to support the SDF as they continue to fight against ISIS.
Unlike in Afrin, which has fallen to Turkey, the United States maintains a presence in Kurdish-held Manbij.
Apparently commenting on reports that the American military is increasing its presence in the region, U.S. Col. Ryan Dillon of the U.S-led coalition told AP, “Our patrols move around. They are not static. The purpose of our forces is to prevent the reemergence of [ISIS jihadists]” and prevent “any type of incursion from any other group in the area.”
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