US says it won't withdraw from Manbij, despite Turkey's pledge to advance on the town
Despite a Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, US troops will not withdraw from their stations in the strategic northern city of Manbij, one senior US military official told CNN.
Ankara had earlier pledged to advance into the area following Operation Olive Branch in Affrin, which risks US troops being caught up in Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
Manbij is a majority-Arab city located 25 miles south of the Syrian-Turkish border.
Gen. Joseph Votel, a commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), said any talk of withdrawal from Manbij is “not something we are looking into”.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on 19 January in its bid to drive the Kurdish and US-allied People's Protection Units (YPD) out of Affrin.
The operation has raised tensions between Turkey and the US, which openly arms Kurdish forces as part of its fight against the Islamic State.
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke in a telephone call, but conflicting accounts have muddied the waters.
According to the White House, Trump “urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces”.
But Turkey’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Erdogan asked Trump to withdraw US troops from Manbij.
Manbij is held by the Manbij Military Council, a mostly Arab force made up of locals. The MMC is aligned with US coalition partner the Syrian Democratic Forces – the MMC was formed to defend Manbij from the Islamic State after the SDF pushed the group out of the city in August 2016.
According to CNN, two US defence officials said earlier this month that the US military is frequently patrolling the Manbij area, with the aim of deterring conflict.