MESOP MANBIJ DAILY : Questions Arise Over Possible Kurdish Control of Manbij

August 16 – by Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Questions are arising over the future of the Kurdish position in northern Syria, days after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces forced the Islamic State out of the city of Manbij.The SDF took full control of Manbij, ISIS’s main position in Aleppo Province, as the last ISIS fighters withdrew towards Jarablus on the Turkish border.Manbij is largely populated by Arab residents. It and the near declared target of the SDF, the ISIS-occupied town of al-Bab to the southwest, are in the area of Aleppo Province between the largest Kurdish-held territory in northeastern Syria and the Afrin canton in the northwest.

Keen to show that the victory is welcomed by residents, the SDF put out videos and photographs of celebrating civilians, with men cutting their beards and women taking off burqas forced upon them by the ISIS rule.

However, sceptics expressed concern that the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and its YPG militia will try to join the Kurdish cantons in the northwest and the northeast, establishing a de facto Syrian Kurdistan across the north, by taking political and military control of the areas in Aleppo Province.

The Turkish Government, which has fought the insurgency of the Kurdish movement PKK — to which the PYD is allied — for decades, set out its worries on Monday.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it expects Syrian Kurdish fighters to withdraw not only from Manbij but to pull back east of the Euphrates River.

“Of course we have an expectation,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara. “The US promised that the [Syrian Kurdish] forces within the coalition and democratic forces there would move east of the Euphrates again following the Manbij operation.”

At the end of 2015, Ankara set out a “red line” at the Euphrates after the SDF — supported by US airstrikes, weapons, and special forces — advanced across northeast Syria in a series of victories over the Islamic State. However, after weeks of negotiations with the Americans, Turkey accepted the Manbij offensive, which began in May.

Meanwhile, clashes grew between the YPG and Syrian rebels in northwest Syria. With rebels also facing pro-Assad and Islamic State offensives, the YPG took opposition-held territory beyond the Afrin canton early this year, and fighting has continued in the Sheikh Maqsoud area in Aleppo city.

Last month, the opposition and rebels accused the YPG of helping a pro-Assad offensive take control of the last route into opposition-held parts of Aleppo, establishing a siege that was broken last week.

The Obama Administration sidestepped the tension on Monday. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said:

For the people of Manbij city, now begins the difficult job of rebuilding their homes and communities, and I call on all of our coalition partners to help them with that task.

For its part, the military coalition will continue to work with capable and motivated local forces to defeat ISIL and ensure it remains defeated.

A Pentagon spokesman, Captain Jeff Davis, said the US has commitments from the Kurdish leadership that local Arabs will rebuild the area.