Turkey says reports of Kurdish militia withdrawal from Manbij 'exaggerated'

ANKARA (Reuters) - A source at Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Monday dismissed a militia report that Kurdish YPG fighters had completely left Syria’s Manbij region as exaggerated, saying their withdrawal was still under way.

Turkey and the United States reached a deal last month over Manbij, a town in northern Syria, after months of disagreement. Under the deal, the YPG would withdraw from Manbij and Turkish and U.S. forces would maintain security and stability around the town.

The Manbij Military Council militia controlling Manbij said the last YPG fighters had left on Sunday after completing their mission of military training of local forces. The Manbij Military Council has repeatedly said there are no YPG fighters there, only some YPG military advisers.

The Manbij Military Council is allied to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed militia spearheaded by the YPG.

However, the Turkish Foreign Ministry source rejected the council’s report.

“We find reports that the PYD/YPG have completely withdrawn from Manbij to be exaggerated. The process is still continuing,” the source said, referring to the Kurdish YPG militia, and its political arm, the PYD.

“Withdrawal from the checkpoints on the patrol route is ongoing. Joint patrol preparations are continuing. Therefore, at this stage, reports that PYD/YPG have completely withdrawn from Manbij do not reflect the truth.”

It was not possible to independently verify the progress of the fighters’ withdrawal.

In a phone call on Monday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed the importance of implementing the joint roadmap in Manbij, the Turkish presidency said.

The two leaders said the implementation of the deal would “significantly contribute” to the cooperation in solving the Syria problem, the presidency said.

Washington’s support for the YPG militia in the fight against Islamic State has infuriated Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PKK, considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and Turkey, has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Ankara fears advances by the YPG in Syria will embolden Kurdish militants at home.

Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Orhan Coskun; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by David Dolan and Alison Williams