Syria: Turkey says Efrin town encircled, agreement reached over military deployment in Manbij
Turkey’s military and Syrian rebel allies have encircled the northern Syrian town of Efrin, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said on Tuesday, March 13, while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that an agreement has been reached with the United States for Turkish troops to deploy in Manbij.
Turkey has long said that one of the primary aims for its 53-day-old Operation Olive Branch is to besiege and capture Efrin, the largest town in the mainly Kurdish Efrin canton.
خريطة تظهر تقدم قوات الجيش السوري الحر في ناحية بلبل و جنديرس وتضيف الخناق على ميليشيات PYD/PKK الإرهابية في مدينة عفرين ضمن عملية غصن الزيتون. pic.twitter.com/bBBWOWa3bQ
— عملية غصن الزيتون Zeytin Dalı Harekatı (@zeytindali_sy) March 12, 2018
Turkey’s military and allied Free Syrian Army forces have made rapid gains in recent days.
Kurdish forces have not yet confirmed the encirclement, and there are reports that a single road to Efrin remains open.
The last corridor out of AFRIN is fragile pic.twitter.com/pbO1RBIhRy
— Lucio Cienfuegos (@comcen76) March 13, 2018
Images published by AFP on Monday showed hundreds of civilians fleeing Efrin and heading east towards regime-held areas.
Civilians fleeing Afrin. @AFPphoto @akhbar pic.twitter.com/AGmSkuICNS
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) March 12, 2018
The TSK said on Monday its forces had also captured “areas of critical importance” in the region, and claimed that it was now in control of more than half of the canton.
There are some unconfirmed reports that the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its allies have handed over control of some strategically important towns east of Efrin to Syrian government forces.
Cavusoglu says U.S. and Turkish troops will jointly secure Manbij
Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that a plan has been agreed that would see Turkish troops stationed in Manbij and that the YPG forces will leave the city.
After the Syrian Democratic Forces recaptured Manbij from Islamic State in August 2016, the YPG said it handed its points of control west of the Euphrates river to Manbij Military Council as it had agreed ahead of the offensive. Turkey has long disputed this version of events.
The U.S. confirmed it had deployed forces to the Manbij area in March 2017 to reassure the SDF and deter hostilities between factions on the ground, but since then Turkey-backed FSA fighters have often fired at forces near the frontline.
MORE: From Hasakah to Manbij: How I got shot at by rebel snipers in Syria
Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper quoted Cavusoglu as saying that the “YPG will leave Manbij, U.S. and Turkish soldiers will joint ensure its security,” AP reported.
The reported deal marks a change in tone from Cavusoglu, who as recently as January 29 said the U.S. should “immediately withdraw from Manbij.”
Cavusoglu said the issue will be further discussed when he meets U.S. officials in Washington on March 19, but vowed that Turkish forces will launch a military operation if the talks fail, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
MORE: Analysis – Will Turkey attack Manbij?
“As was announced by Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu in Ankara, the United States and Turkey agreed to establish a results-oriented mechanism to discuss all of the critical issues that face our relationship with Turkey,” U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson Johnny Michael told The Defense Post.
“We are not going to get ahead of the process and speculate on potential outcomes or proposals. The specifics will emerge out of the work by our diplomats and experts as we allow these groups to come and work together.”