Istanbul (AFP) – Turkey on Monday said it had started military patrols in an area around the Kurdish-held city of Manbij in northern Syria, in line with an agreement with the United States to scale down tensions in the region.
The Turkish army said in a statement that “patrol activities had begun” between Manbij and an area it controls after a 2016-2017 military incursion.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said that Turkish armoured vehicles were patrolling “on the Manbij frontline”. It said US forces were also patrolling the area but “independently”.
Manbij, formerly held by Islamic State (IS) jihadists, is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group dominated by a Kurdish militia Turkey considers to be a terror group but that is supported by the US.
The issue of Manbij had become a major flashpoint between the two NATO allies. But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed a roadmap on the future of the city to ease tensions earlier this month.
The move comes as Turkey prepares for tight presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday. Many analysts say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants a major foreign policy success to give him a final boost.
Erdogan hailed the move by the army around Manbij in two campaign rallies on Tuesday in comments loudly cheered by supporters.
Cavusoglu said that Turkish soldiers would “bit by bit” move inside Manbij and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) would move out.
“We can say we have started to implement the roadmap” agreed with the United States, he added.
A commander with Syrian rebels fighting with the Turkish forces told AFP that the area where the troops had been positioned “is a front line between the opposition and the SDF, according to the road map that was agreed.”
Sherfan Darwish, spokesman of the Manbij Military Council which rules the town, confirmed that “Turkish forces did not enter our areas in Manbij and have not crossed the front lines.”
He added that “American forces are carrying out patrols on our forces’ side”.