U.S. and Turkish forces have begun joint patrols around the northern Syrian city of Manbij as part of a “roadmap” reached earlier this year that saw the People’s Protection Units (YPG) withdraw from the city.
“The joint patrol in Manbij between elements of the U.S. and TSK [Turkish Armed Forces] began today at 1553 [1253 GMT],” state-run Anadolu Agency reported Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar as saying on Thursday, November 1.
Earlier, Akar said: “The terror group is digging ditches in Manbij as they have done in Afrin, despite promises made for PKK/PYD/YPG’s withdrawal from Manbij.”
“The terror group should know that it will be buried in the trenches it has dug.”
A Reuters witness saw six vehicles – some flying the Turkish flag and others the U.S. flag – around 20 km from Manbij.
Turkey’s ministry of defense later tweeted images of U.S. and Turkish military vehicles.
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump also spoke about bilateral and regional issues including Manbij in a phone call, Turkey’s presidential press office said, Anadolu reported.
The YPG is considered by the Turkish government to be inextricably linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey, and is designated as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.
But the YPG is not a proscribed organization in the United Kingdom, United States or European Union and is the largest and key component of the U.S.-led Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance which is waging the campaign against ISIS in Syria.
Coalition & Turkish military forces started combined patrols northwest of Manbij today. Patrols complement local security structure & stability in Manbij, imperative to sustaining momentum to defeat-ISIS operations in eastern Syria, incl. the safe & voluntary return of refugees.
— OIR Spokesman (@OIRSpox) November 1, 2018
In a later release, the U.S.-led Coalition confirmed that joint patrols had begun, describing them as Coalition and Turkish military combined patrols, rather than bilateral U.S.-Turkey patrols.
“The combined patrols allow Coalition and Turkish military forces to complement the local security structure for security and stability in Manbij,” the release said.
“Maintaining security and stability in Manbij is imperative to sustaining momentum during the ongoing defeat-ISIS operations in eastern Syria and for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons,” the Coalition added.
The announcement comes a day after the SDF said it temporarily halted its fight against Islamic State due to a series of Turkish military attacks along the Syria-Turkey border east of the Euphrates river.
Manbij Military Council spokesperson Shervan Derwish told the Associated Press that the patrols will be carried out on the front lines between territory held by MMC and that controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters Operation Euphrates Shield further north.
U.S. and Turkish forces began training for the joint patrols around Manbij in early October.
“The aim of these patrols is to reduce tension and guarantee stability so that there will be no tension along the front line,” Derwish said.
In June, Derwish told The Defense Post that the United States and the Coalition against ISIS have pledged to protect Manbij from outside attacks.
Manbij was captured from ISIS on August 12, 2016 by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces after a 75-day battle, later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander.
Fighters from the YPG and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) made up the bulk of those deployed in the operation, and the YPG said it handed its points of control west of the Euphrates river to MMC as it had agreed ahead of the offensive. Turkey has long disputed this version of events, but the YPG announced on June 5 that it was pulling those remaining advisors from Manbij.
On June 5, the U.S. Department of State said that the U.S. and Turkey agreed to a “roadmap” for Manbij that included that removal of the YPG.
Anadolu news agency reported on May 30 that the plan would include joint patrols and a joint inspection of the city, as well as the formation of local municipal and military councils.
CJTF-OIR spokesperson Colonel Sean Ryan told reporters later: “They’re independent coordinations, they’re not joint patrols. I can tell you that Turkish soldiers will not go into Manbij.”
According to Anadolu, the Turkish military has carried out 68 independent but coordinated patrols since June 18.