June 6, 2018 / 1:31 PM / 2 months ago

Militia in Syria's Manbij 'will not accept' Turkish military presence

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The militia controlling the flashpoint north Syrian town of Manbij said on Wednesday it would not accept any Turkish military deployment there, after Ankara and Washington said they had reached an agreement for administering the area.

A road sign that shows the direction to Manbij city is seen in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

“We will not accept that,” said a spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, which is allied to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, when asked by Reuters if it would accept a Turkish military presence.

The spokesman, Sharfan Darwish, said the council had not yet been officially informed of the mechanisms of a Turkey-U.S. roadmap for Manbij announced on Monday, but said the council was capable of preserving the security and borders of the town against any external threats.

“We are awaiting high-level visits by coalition officials to inform us of the details, and for consultations and discussions,” Darwish added.

The fate of Manbij has been a focus of friction between the United States and Turkey because of the presence there of the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia that forms the largest part of the U.S.-backed SDF.

Turkey sees YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil. Washington views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against jihadist group Islamic State.

Turkey launched a cross-border military operation into Syria earlier this year and drove YPG fighters out of the town of Afrin, further west. But it has so far held back from a threatened assault on Manbij, in an SDF-controlled zone where the United States has 2,000 special forces troops.

The YPG said on Tuesday its military advisers would leave the town. The Manbij Military Council on Wednesday said this would occur “in the coming days”.

Ankara has been angered by Washington’s support for the YPG-dominated SDF, and pledged earlier this year to drive the Kurdish group from Manbij by force, raising the possibility of confrontation with U.S. forces in the area.

Reporting by Dahlia Nehme, Lisa Barrington and Angus McDowall; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Peter Graff

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