The Devil in the Details of the Manbij Accord #TurkeyUS
Declarations by the government about headway having been made with the U.S. over various issues clouding bilateral ties, are best taken with a pinch of salt these days, given the less than favorable state of the relations between the two countries currently.
The government’s much touted announcement earlier this week that Turkish and American forces have started joint patrols in Manbij, the northern Syrian city Ankara wants to rid of the U.S. backed Kurdish YPG fighters, is no exception.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and government ministers were quick to present this as a great victory and use it in their campaigning for Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
It was noticeable, however, that little was being said about the matter by Washington, and what was being said did not quite tally with what Ankara is saying.
It’s no secret that the mood in the U.S. capital towards Turkey is less than friendly presently. The U.S. congress also remains determined to punish Turkey for purchasing Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems, and for continuing to incarcerate an American pastor on terrorism charges.
As usual the devil is in the details. Even the statement from the Turkish military was enough to undermine the assertions by Erdogan and some government ministers.
“As per the Manbij Roadmap and Safety Principles previously agreed upon, independent patrol activities by soldiers of Turkish Armed Forces and U.S. Armed Forces have begun on the line between (the Turkish-controlled) area and Manbij,” the Turkish military said on its Twitter account.
In other words we are not talking about “joint patrols in Manbij” yet, but “independent patrol activities by soldiers of Turkish Armed Forces and U.S. Armed Forces.”
Remarks on the matter by Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon are also in line with the Turkish military’s statement. “Coalition and Turkish forces have begun coordinated but independent patrols near, but not in, Manbij,” Pahon told Reuters.
Put in plain language, Turkish and American forces are patrolling their side of the demarcation line dividing them, east and west of Manbij, and they are doing this in a coordinated manner. This does not quite comply with what the government is saying.
Col. Sean J. Ryan, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, also made this clear on Tuesday when he told reporters via a teleconference from Baghdad, that these were not joint patrols, and adding, that that “Turkish soldiers will not go into Manbij.”
The mainstream Turkish media, which has more or less surrendered to the present administration, did not carry this statement in the same way it carried the government’s announcement that Turkish and American forces have started joint patrols in Manbij.
According to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu what has been achieved is only the first step before Turkish and American forces conduct joint patrols in Manbij. Such patrols may start eventually in line with the “road map” for Manbij that Ankara and Washington are said to be negotiating the details of today.
We are obviously not there yet, though, and it is not certain when we will be, given the negative mood regarding Turkey in Washington, where there is still a lot of sympathy for the Kurds in general and the YPG in particular.
Clearly there is still more to be done, before the joint Turkish-U.S. patrols in Manbij that Ankara wants begin. The “coordinated patrols” announced this week may indeed be a step in that direction.
However, this could just as easily be a tactical move by Washington to ease some of the pressure in its strained ties with Ankara.