Turkiye, Americas

US concerned about safety of American forces in Manbij

High-level US official says concern was conveyed to Turkish officials at meeting in capital Ankara

Diyar Güldoğan   | 25.01.2018
US concerned about safety of American forces in Manbij


By Tugrul Cam


Washington voiced concern about the safety of U.S. forces in Syria's Manbij amid Turkey's ongoing operation in northwestern Syria.

"What I can say about Manbij is we have American forces in the vicinity and our number one concern would be for the safety and security of people on the ground," a high-level U.S. official, who does not want to be named, told reporters on Wednesday in the capital Ankara.

The official said this concern was passed on to Turkey during their talks with officials.

A high-level U.S. delegation on Tuesday discussed a number of issues, including Syria, with Turkish officials at the Foreign Ministry and at the Turkish General Staff in Ankara, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

The meeting came after Turkey on Saturday launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.

Turkey said that an operation could be expanded to the neighboring Manbij region.

"For now, Afrin is the target. But in the future, we might also start an operation in Manbij and also in the eastern part of the Euphrates," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

The official was reminded after the re-capture of Manbij from Daesh, the U.S. did not keep its promise to Turkey of retreating the PYD/YPG elements to the east side of Euphrates River.

"I cannot answer how the future of Manbij is gonna unfold but ultimately the people of Manbij should be the ones who control Manbij," he said.

He added Turkish officials said that they wanted to see the YPG in the east of the Euphrates, adding: "We hear that and will pass that back to Washington." 

US intends to retrieve weapons from northern Syria

The official said the U.S. would retrieve the weapons that it gave to some groups in northern Syria.

However, he did not give a specific timeframe for that.

On Dec. 17, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Anadolu Agency that the U.S. will recoup every weapon from the YPG/PKK that could threaten Turkey.

"Categorically, we will collect any arms that would threaten our ally Turkey. Turks have the inventory of those,” Pahon said.

The official said the U.S. provides Turkey with an updated list of inventory each month.

Asked whether the U.S. continued to supply weapons to YPG/PKK, the official said the Pentagon could answer this question.

He claimed that the "vast majority" of those deliveries had gone to U.S. forces. He added deliveries included ammunition, food, and humanitarian materials.

The official claimed there was no plan to create a "Syrian border force" and said public statements about it were "mischaracterizations".

"We are continuing to work with partners, the SDF, to make sure that ISIS [Daesh] cannot escape into neighboring countries," he said. 

About a question what would be a better term than "Syrian border force", he said this question should be asked to the Pentagon, adding: "They misspoke."

American support for the terror group has long vexed Ankara as Washington views the PYD/PKK-led umbrella group, SDF, as a "reliable partner" in its fight against Daesh and continues to provide it with arms and equipment in the face of strong objections from Turkey.

- 'Conflict in Syria not resolved as long as Assad in power'

The official said Washington did not seek to create an autonomous region or a separate state in northern Syria.

The official said Syrians should determine their future.

"We believe that the local population should be able to run the local affairs. The voices of everyone in the population should have a place in the construct.

"In a post-[Bashar al-]Assad Syria, there should be a re-establishment of connection between the regions and Damascus. How that happens, the shape and format is partly what is under discussion in the UN talks that [UN Syria envoy] Staffan de Mistura is leading," he said.

He added Assad should leave, saying: "We do not believe that the conflict in Syria can be resolved as long as [the] Assad family is in power."

Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since March 2011 when the al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

While UN officials say hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, Syrian regime officials say the death toll is closer to 10,000.

The official added there would be possible high-level visits between Ankara and Washington.

* Diyar Guldogan from Ankara contributed to this story.

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