The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) primarily consisting of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will hand over wide areas west of the northern Syrian town of Manbij to the Syrian army, according to a statement released by the so-called Manbij Miltiary Council (MMC) – another entity created to hide the presence of Kurdish YPG fighters in the area.
“Defending the civilians and protecting them from the adverse impact of the war, ensuring the security of Manbj and frustrating the invasion plans of the Turkish army against Syrian soil are the goals we we have taken for all the peoples living on the lands of Syria.
In order to realize these goals of ours, we as Manbij Military Council state that we have handed over the defense of the line – where villages between the positions of our forces in western Manbij and Turkish-affiliated gangs are located – to Syrian state forces as part of the alliance we have made with Russian officials,” the Kurdish Hawar News Agency quotes the MMC statement.
Thus, the SDF wants to use Syrian army troops as a buffer against Turkish-backed militant groups in northern Syria and refers that this decision is made after talks with “Russia” – a clear aim to use the Russian and Syrian military and diplomatic capabilities to defend itself from Turkey.
SF recalls that Talal Silo, a spokesman for the SDF, argued that the US is the only SDF partner in Syria just few months ago (August, 2016):
“It’s forbidden to negotiate with the Russians because we seek for an alliance with the United States. It’s impossible to communicate with any other party and to not lose the credibility of the international coalition. Of course, we are free, but we can not attack if there is not signal from the Americans.”
“We will not unite with the Syrian army against ISIS because our forces operate only with the forces of the international coalition led by the United States. We are partners of the United States and the coalition. They make decisions. There can’t be a coordination between the Russians and us. Because first of all we have a strategic partnership with the international coalition led by the United States.”
It seems the SDF/YPG dramatically changed its attitude in March 2017 after it had became clear that few US Special Forces troops were not enough to save the “US-backed opposition force” from the Turks.
After taking control of al-Bab, Ankara openly announced that it’s going to clear Manbij from PKK-linked terrorists.
Turkey sees the YPG as just a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which Turkey has been at war almost continuously since 1984. In turn, the PKK seeks to establish an independent Kurdish state in southern Turkey.
Intense clashes already took place between Ankara-led forces and the YPG west of Manbij and both sides suffered casualties in late February and early March.
Turkey has been also deploying additional troops and military equipment in Syria and Ankara-led militant groups are preparing to storm the important YPG-held town of Tell Rifat.
There are still no official reports which areas the Syrian army will control in the Manbij countryside. However, there are two options (important – the map in the article shows approximate areas which could be transfered to the Syrian army):
- The Syrian army enters villages west of Manbij (1 on the map). Thus, Ankara will not be able to attack the YPG/SDF from this direction because this will lead to an escalation between Turkey and the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance. This is not a useful option for Ankara at this moment. In this case, Turkey-led forces will be able to attack Manbij only from the direction of Jarabulus, from the south.
- The Syrian army enters villages west and north of Manbij (1, 2 on the map). This will prevent any Turkish attempts to attack the SDF/YPG in the coutnryside of Manbij. On the other hand, this option pushes the “US-backed force” to transfer more villages to the Syrian government.
In any case, one problem will remain. Ankara-led forces will still be able to attack the YPG/SDF in northwestern Syria and Tell Rifat will be an obvious target for this effort.