Who Will Keep Regime Forces Out of Manbij For Turkey?
Among his many responses to reporters, during his press briefing on Friday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamdi Aksoy said “the YPG’s efforts to bring Syrian regime force into Manbij should not be permitted.”
Regime forces – with Russian backing – however, are already positioned on the outskirts of Manbij. Aksoy obviously knows this so he must have been referring to the regime consolidating its hold over the whole region.
His remarks reveal the growing displeasure in Ankara over reports of deals being brokered between the YPG – a terrorist organization for Turkey – and the Assad regime.
Turkey does not want any vestige of the YPG, or its political wing the PYG, in Manbij. It clearly wants to take control of the whole town, as it did in Afrin; especially now that President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.
It is not clear, of course, if and when these forces will leave, and Trump’s promise to “devastate Turkey economically” if it attacks the Kurds has not made matters any easier for Ankara.
It’s not just Washington; however, that is leaving Ankara with difficult choices.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that the Syrian regime must take control of the country’s north. His words must have grated on Turkish nerves.
Ankara is trying to downplay such remarks out of deference to Moscow, but these statements, and actions backing them, keep coming.
Moscow not only welcomed the recent deployment of Syrian regime forces on the outskirts of Manbij, but moved some of its own forces there too, which are reportedly also conducting joint patrols with the YPG when necessary.
The Russian side has made it no secret that it is working behind the scenes to encourage the YPG and PYD – neither of which it recognizes as a terrorist groups – to come to terms with Damascus, and allow it to reinstate its control over northern Syria.
Given that this is the case it is not clear who Aksoy is appealing to when he says that “the YPG’s efforts to bring Syrian regime force into Manbij should not be permitted.”
It can’t be Russia since Moscow’s position is clear. Perhaps then it is to Washington.
Trump’s threat seems to have triggered a spate of high level contacts between the two countries, which are now talking about establishing a buffer zone in northern Syria.
Washington can’t be too happy about the fact that Syrian President Bashar al Assad is being readmitted into the Arab fold with Russian encouragement, so it may be more amenable to seeking some settlement with Turkey in the north.
There is still Washington’s public commitment to protect the YPG, though, that Ankara has promised “to bury in their trenches” in Manbij, and east of the Euphrates River.
The phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Trump at the beginning of the week may have calmed the atmosphere after Trump’s threat to “devastate Turkey,” but it did not resolve the matter, if we are to judge by the differing official readouts of the conversation.
To try and keep the Syrian regime out of Manbij Turkey clearly has to come to an agreement with the U.S. This, however, requires that it come to terms with Washington’s demand not to attack the YPG. That will be a hard one for Ankara to swallow.
Syria continues to leave Turkey facing difficult choices it never expected.