BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Thursday its forces taking part in an operation to capture the city of Manbij from Islamic State had returned to their bases after the mission was successfully completed.
The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State separately said the “main element” of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)alliance, which includes the YPG, had moved east across the Euphrates river, which they had crossed in order to capture Manbij.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Syrian Kurdish forces must return to the east of the Euphrates into territory they hold after seizing Manbij. Turkey has demanded that Kurdish forces withdraw. It said on Thursday Kurdish fighters must retreat east of the river within a week.
In a statement, the YPG said military command and all YPG-held positions had been handed to the allied Manbij Military Council, while civilian control was handed to a civilian council on Aug. 15.
The YPG statement did not say where the bases were located. The Manbij military and civilian councils say they are made up of people from Manbij.
The YPG has been a critical partner in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State in Syria. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said the SDF had withdrawn east to prepare for “the eventual liberation” of Raqqa, Islamic State’s main city in Syria.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces have moved east across the Euphrates to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa,” the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve wrote on his Twitter feed. He said some forces remained in Manbij to finish clearing the area and removing improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“We are working with a number of groups all focused on the common goal of defeating Daesh. What we can expect is they will continue to liberate areas where they can in preparation ultimately for the larger liberation battle at Raqqa,” said Colonel John Dorrian, the spokesman.
The YPG controls swathes of northern Syria, where Kurdish groups associated with the militia have set up their own government since Syria’s civil war began in 2011.
YPG-held areas include an uninterrupted 40-km (250-mile) stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border, from the frontier with Iraq to the Euphrates, and a pocket of territory in northwestern Syria called Afrin.
This month’s capture of Manbij extended YPG-controlled territory west of the Euphrates.
Reporting by Tom Perry/Lisa Barrington; editing by Mark Heinrich