TURKEY

Agreeing over Manbij, Turkey, US take steps to rebuild trust

U.S troops look out toward the border with Turkey from an outpost near the town of Manbij, Syria, Feb. 7.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey and the U.S. have agreed to jointly monitor security in Manbij and other areas east of the Euphrates once the YPG withdraws from the region

In a move seen as an effort to overcome differences and rebuild trust between Turkey and the United States, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced Tuesday that the two NATO allies have agreed to monitor security in Syria's Manbij and other areas held by the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate People's Protection Units (YPG) once it withdraws from the region. "Turkish and U.S. troops will ensure security in Manbij once the YPG withdraws from there," Çavuşoğlu told reporters on his way to Moscow, where he will be meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The Foreign Minister also added that the withdrawal process will be monitored by the two countries.

The presence of the YPG, which is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in Manbij had turned into a dispute between Ankara and Washington after the U.S. administration failed to keep its promises that the YPG would move east of the Euphrates. Manbij is also one of the areas in Syria where U.S. troops are present to support the YPG. The U.S.'s support for YPG terrorists in Syria, coupled with the delay by the U.S. is showing solidarity against the failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt and the extradition of Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) leader Fetullah Gülen had resulted in a loss of trust between the two countries.

In response, Turkey said it would expand its ongoing Operation Olive Branch in Afrin in Syria's northwest to YPG-held Manbij, and also to the areas in the eastern parts of the Euphrates River.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit in February and the recent agreement over Manbij have come to reflect the U.S.'s efforts to normalize relations with Turkey. This was particularly so after the success of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in northwestern Syria.

The TSK and FSA have been conducting an offensive in Afrin since Jan. 20 to clear the PKK's affiliates from the region. So far they have been able to clear most of the major areas in the Afrin province, and as of Tuesday they have surrounded city center.

After Tillerson's recent visit, Ankara and Washington agreed to establish joint mechanisms to overcome their differences, particularly the U.S.'s support for the YPG in Syria, FETÖ and Iraq.

The decision over Manbij was discussed on March 8-9 between the working groups from both countries in Washington.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said the details of their plans will be discussed and a roadmap will be drawn on how to proceed during their next meeting in Washington on March 19.

Prior to Tillerson, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster had also visited Ankara where he met with the Turkish Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın.

For the future of Manbij, Ankara has been arguing that it should be administered by a mechanism that would reflect the demographics of the province, determined according to a census before the YPG took control, which was predominantly Arab.

The Turkish foreign minister said the same model will be applied to other regions after, including in the regions of the eastern parts of the Euphrates River and Raqqa.

"We still have disagreements from the last meeting, however, we are on a direction of mutual agreement," Çavuşoğlu said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had also told reporters on Feb. 28 during his visit to Algeria that Arabs constitute about 90-95 percent of the locals in Manbij.

"However, they were forcefully relocated from there. Now the actual owners of Manbij say that they are determined to defend their towns. We believe that Manbij should be returned back to the actual owners," Erdoğan said.

The YPG's ultimate aim is to establish an autonomous region in northern Syria by connecting northwestern Afrin to the Kobani and Jazeera cantons in the northeast. As such, Turkey's operation will put a stop to establishing the autonomous region, which Ankara terms a "terror corridor."

Ankara has also requested that the U.S. take back the arms it has given to the YPG, arguing that they are ultimately used against Turkey seeing as the YPG transfers them to PKK militants.

Turkish officials say that the PKK, a group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU, is organizationally linked to the YPG.

The U.S. has given the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG, nearly 5,000 truckloads of weaponry and military equipment, under the pretext of fighting the Daesh terrorist group.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said Ankara is aware that not all the weapons will be taken back by the U.S. as some will be lost or worn out, but the process is still being followed by Turkey in a joint working group.

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