Manbij (Syria) (AFP) – The strategic town of Manbij in northern Syria won’t be abandoned by the US-led coalition, a local military official said Wednesday after the leading Kurdish militia announced its withdrawal.
On Tuesday the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said it was pulling its military advisers from Manbij, where they had been training local forces in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The announcement came a day after an agreement between the US and Turkey over the future of the Arab-majority town, which sits just 30 kilometres (about 20 miles) from the Turkish border.
Manbij’s military council had not been privy to the details of the deal, but it has received reassurances that the US-led coalition will not leave the town, the council’s chief Mohamad Mustafa Abu Adel said.
“With this agreement, we have had meetings with high-level officials from the coalition who have assured us that in no case will they abandon the town of Manbij,” Abu Adel told AFP.
The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has received extensive backing from the US-led coalition.
The militia spearheaded a victorious offensive in 2016 to drive IS from Manbij, where French and US troops belonging to the Western coalition against the jihadists are currently stationed.
“The coalition forces are still there at their outposts,” Abu Adel told AFP on the sidelines of a news conference.
Dozens of YPG advisers were expected to leave the town within days, he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the aim of the roadmap agreed with the United States was to “eradicate the YPG” from Manbij.
“Then we will work (with the Americans) to set up a security framework, and we will decide together who will manage the town,” he said on Wednesday.
Ankara accuses the YPG of being the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey.
Washington’s support for the YPG has strained relations with Ankara, which fears the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region on its southern border.