SDF Withdrawal from Manbij
The General Command of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) released a statement on Tuesday, June 5th announcing the withdrawal of its military advisors from the northwestern Syrian city of Manbij (1). YPG advisors had been stationed in Manbij to train the Manbij Military Council (MMC) following the city’s capture from ISIS control in 2016. The announcement comes six days after initial reports indicating that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had begun evacuating from the city (2). The move is part of an agreement between Ankara and Washington to shape the future of northern Syria, one that aims to cool a protracted dispute regarding control of Manbij and the territory immediately south of the Turkish-Syrian border. Under the agreement, Turkish and American forces will maintain control and security of the city while the withdrawal is carried out (3).
This latest development constitutes a continuation of the Euphrates Shield campaign launched by Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) in August 2016 to eliminate ISIS and Kurdish territorial control along the Turkish-Syrian border from the Euphrates to the Iraqi international border. The January 2018 Turkish offensive to oust the Kurdish SDF from the northwest city of Afrin, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, forms the spearhead of the broader effort to dislodge the SDF. Prior to the agreement, Ankara had repeatedly threatened military action in Manbij to remove the SDF despite a substantial share of the 2,000 U.S. special forces in Syria being located in the city (4). Should Turkish forces wrest control of Manbij fully, they would control a key pocket of land adjacent to the western bank of the Euphrates River and secure a more easily defensible territory. Such an outcome would also force Kurdish forces further east, away from the now Turkish controlled northwest region of Syria.
- General Command of People’s Protection Units. “Press Release: Statement to Public Opinion.” 5 June 2018.
Saban, Navvar. Twitter post. 30 May 2018, 4:26 pm EST.
Gumrucku, Tuvan and Ece Toksabay. Reuters. “Turkey, U.S. agree roadmap to avert crisis in Syria’s Manbij, few details.” 4 June 2018.
Aliriza, Bulent. Center for Strategic & International Studies. “U.S.-Turkish Tensions in Syria: The Manbij Conundrum.” 5 April 2018.