Turkey Eyes Clearing East Euphrates of YPG Units
Turkey will seek to clear the entire east Euphrates area of Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), preferring to resort to a political settlement similar to the agreement made on Manbij, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said.
Bozdag made the comments to the Haberturk newspaper Wednesday, two days after a "road map" was reached between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the Syrian city of Manbij.
W. Robert Pearson, a Middle East Institute scholar and former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, told VOA the road map was the beginning of the process as it laid the foundation for further cooperation between the two countries. The extent of this cooperation will depend on finding a common ground between the two NATO allies, he added.
Room for cooperation
"The U.S. will protect its interests east of the Euphrates, but I believe there is additional room to work together with Turkey to increase security on the Syrian-Turkish border," Pearson said.
The U.S. State Department issued a brief U.S.-Turkey statement on Monday, putting emphasis on the endorsement of a road map to ensure security and stability in Manbij, without providing further details on the steps and conditions of the plan.
Turkey was giving its own account of the agreement even before its official announcement.
The Turkish state-run Anadolu News Agency claimed last week that the road map included three phases: the withdrawal of YPG troops from the western bank of Euphrates River; a U.S.-Turkey joint inspection mission; and formation of a local administration within 60 days after June 4.
Ankara views the YPG as a Syrian wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a U.S.- and EU-designated terror organization.
Relations between U.S. and Turkey have faced many challenges in the past few years. Turkey's security concerns have grown because of unrest in the region, mainly in Syria; the increased roles of different state actors in the region; and the growing influence of the Kurdish YPG, which Washington considers a main ally in the fight against IS.
Charles Lister, the director of the extremism and counterextremism program at the Middle East Institute, said that with regard to the strategic relationship in the region, the United States and Turkey find that reconstructing their strained relationship is more valuable as the battle against the Islamic State group is wrapping up.
"The YPG finds itself in a weaker position than it has been in Syria for a long time. When you read between the lines, the U.S. military, the State Department, both the Obama and the Trump administrations, have all made it quite clear that when push comes to shove, our relationship with the YPG is transactional," Lister said.
WATCH: YPG Announces Plan to Withdraw Military Advisers From Manbij
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The Manbij Military Council issued a statement Wednesday about the recent developments in the city, adding that the council asked the YPG and the U.S.-led coalition for help in liberating the city from IS. Most of the YPG fighters left the city after its liberation, leaving military advisers behind to provide military training.
Some experts believe that the success of administering Manbij could determine the success of future deals and political agreements east of the Euphrates.
The governments of the United States and Turkey have agreed on bringing stability and self-rule to Manbij, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a briefing Tuesday. "We believe that it will be acceptable to all parties, and importantly that includes the people of Manbij, those who live in Manbij," she said.
Manbij Military Council spokesman Sharfan Darwish told VOA there were discussions taking place between the coalition and the council, but they received no further details on the agreement between the two NATO allies.
"Manbij is administrated by its local residents, and its sons and daughters are working under the umbrella of Manbij's council," Darwish said.