Kurdish YPG will leave Manbij, the militia confirmed a day after Turkey and the US agreed to a “roadmap” for northern Syria.
Experts say the move wasn’t a free choice, and it is not known who will now take control of the city.
The US-backed Kurdish militia said in a statement that the bulk of its fighting forces had left Manbij in November 2016, but that its remaining military advisers at the Manbij Military Council were now preparing to leave the northern Syrian city.
The statement vowed that YPG (People’s Protection Units) “will heed the call when necessary to offer support and help to the people of Manbij should it be needed.”
The announced withdrawal comes hours after comments made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who said on Tuesday that the Kurdish YPG fighters will be disarmed and forced to leave Manbij as part of a roadmap for the region agreed with the US. It’s not clear whether the YPG fighters have agreed to surrender their weapons before leaving the city.
The YPG’s withdrawal from Manbij may be more out of necessity than an eagerness to comply with any US-Turkish agreement, Manish Rai, editor of the geopolitical news agency ViewsAround, .
Rai noted that either way, the YPG would be forced out of the city, adding that “as soon as the YPG move out of Manbij, the Turkish Army will enter the city.
But eventually I think Turkey will hand over control of city to rebel forces which it backed like it did in Afrin.”
The news may have caught the Manbij Military Council off-guard. Earlier, Shervan Derwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, had told RT Arabic that his organization had no knowledge of any deal regarding the city.
Washington has backed the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as its principal ally against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria.
The group controls much of the country’s northeast, with the vast majority of its fighters belonging to the Kurdish YPG. Ankara regards the group as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington have designated a terrorist organization.
According to Cavusoglu, Washington is still unwilling to designate the YPG as a terrorist group. US support for the SDF has put Washington in an “awkward situation,” journalist and Middle East expert Andrey Ontikov said.
“On the one hand, they have supported the Kurds, on the other hand they seriously damaged relations with their NATO ally Turkey.
So they were faced with a simple choice: either continue to push the same line on supporting the Kurds, or take a step back and begin some sort of a dialogue with Ankara. Apparently, they chose the latter,” he said.
After a meeting between Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Monday, the two NATO allies agreed to work together to ensure “security and stability” in Manbij – but the resulting “Road Map” was light on details.
Despite the agreement’s ambiguous language, in a press conference following his meeting with Pompeo, Cavusoglu did not shy away from discussing concrete plans for Manbij, telling reporters that the city would be secured by both Turkish and US forces.
The future of US-backed Kurdish militias occupying Syrian territory along Turkey’s southern border has been a major point of conflict between Washington and Ankara.
The Kurds, who are striving for greater autonomy if not independence from Syria, and have been supported in that by the US, are now finding themselves in a difficult situation, Ontikov said.
He added that there is “bargaining” going on between the sides as they struggle to fulfill their original aims.
Ankara has publicly said it is against the fracturing of Syria, while Washington, Ontikov believes, isn’t giving up its dividing up the state.
Ontikov believes that no “federalization” is possible in Syria, and the Kurds need to agree to a form of greater autonomy to avoid a full-on military conflict with Damascus.
He said that in his opinion, the Kurdish forces should integrate into the Syrian Army, given that the illegal presence of foreign troops in Syria will eventually end.
Turkey “wanted the city to be returned to its original inhabitants – the Arab majority,” Osman Faruk Loğoğlu, former Turkish ambassador to the US, told RT.
“The north of Syria is the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic as is the rest of the country. Eventually, the Syrian army must take control of the entire territory of the country.
“All actors must work for a political solution to the conflict on the basis of the territorial integrity of Syria and all foreign forces must ultimately withdraw from Syria as a settlement is reached,” he said.