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US-led coalition will remain in Syria's Manbij despite YPG withdrawal

The YPG said it was pulling its military advisers from Manbij [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 June, 2018

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The strategic town of Manbij in northern Syria won't be abandoned by the US-led coalition, a local military official said on Wednesday after the leading Kurdish militia announced its withdrawal.

The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria will remain in the strategic town of Manbij, a local military official said on Wednesday after the leading Kurdish militia announced its withdrawal.

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.

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.

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. The United States did not promise to declare the YPG a terrorist organisation, Cavusoglu added. 

Washington's support for the YPG has strained relations with Ankara, which fears the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region on its southern border.

Neutralised

Turkey has in recent months been ramping up its activities against Kurdish militant groups in the region.

On Tuesday, Turkey said its warplanes "neutralised" at least six Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq.

The airstrike hit the Hakurk, Gara, Metina, Zap, Qandil, and Avasin regions of northern Iraq, destroying 16 targets across them. 

Ankara regularly strikes PKK targets in northern Iraq, where the group is based. 

"We have neutralised 4,500 terrorists in Afrin. They fled," Erdogan said on Tuesday, discussing an operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. 

"Qandil is next, Sinjar is next. We will face up to whoever is threatening, disturbing my country," Erdogan said at a rally in the Black Sea city of Eregli, referring to two Iraqi Kurdistan regions. 

In March, Iraqi authorities confirmed Baghdad agreed to Turkey conducting military operations along the border between the two countries, according to local reports.

Ankara launched the operations "to purge the borders from terrorist pockets in collaboration with the Iraqi government," Turkish ambassador to Iraq Fateh Yildiz said at the time.

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