WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Training for joint US-Turkish patrols around the Syrian city of Manbij has begun, the Spokesman for the US-led Coalition against the Islamic State (Combined Joint Task Force—Operation Inherent Resolve, CJTF-OIR), Col. Sean Ryan, told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday.
The first step is what the Coalition calls the “Train-the-Trainer” program, instructing Turkish officers on how to prepare their own soldiers for the joint mission.
Responding to a question from Kurdistan 24, Ryan stated, “The train-the-trainer program has begun in Manbij.”
“Right now,” he continued, “they’re just going through all the different classes and all the different instruction that both parties need to fully complement each other before they go out on an actual patrol.”
There was “no timetable,” but it was expected that this phase would take a few weeks, after which regular training would begin.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been CJTF-OIR’s main partner in Syria in fighting the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria, and the SDF is led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG.)
Ankara claims that the YPG is merely the Syrian branch of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey, as well as the US and the European Union, consider a terrorist organization.
According to the “roadmap,” agreed upon in June by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, the YPG is to leave Manbij and move east of the Euphrates River.
In August, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, America’s most senior military officer, told reporters that “very few” members of the YPG are “left in Manbij, if any.”
Yet Turkish complaints about the YPG in Manbij, nonetheless, continued. Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, suggested to Kurdistan 24 that Ankara might not be speaking about uniformed YPG, but individuals on the Manbij Military Council, which administers the city.
Last Friday, Turkey ended a major crisis in its relations with the US by freeing Pastor Andrew Brunson, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed Turkey’s complaints over the situation in Manbij.
“They are now digging trenches in Manbij. What does this mean? It means ‘we’ve prepared the graves, come and bury us,’” Erdogan stated. “They said they would abandon the area in 90 days, but they haven’t. We will do what is necessary.”
The Chief of the Turkish General Staff, Gen. Yasar Guler, in Washington for a meeting of the Global Coalition against IS, met Dunford on Monday, and they discussed Manbij.
At a press conference on Tuesday, a journalist from Turkey’s official media complained about US delays in implementing the roadmap.
Dunford responded that the US was “moving at a reasonable pace,” emphasizing there was “no urgency,” because the security situation was stable, adding, “We’ll be ready soon to transition into the vetting of individuals” and “the political piece of Manbij.”
Visitors to Manbij regular describe it as peaceful and secure. That is what Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D, New Hampshire) explained in July after she and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) visited the city.
“We went through the market in Manbij, which had been controlled by [IS] for several years,” Shaheen said.
“People were out. Kids were playing in the streets. Women were walking around. We need to make sure that continues.”
Yet on Wednesday, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Erdogan in Ankara, primarily to discuss the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Erdogan again threatened the US over Manbij.
Following their meeting, Cavusoglu told reporters that Erdogan had advised Pompeo that Turkey was ready to “eliminate terrorists” in Manbij, “if the US is facing difficulties.”
However, the US position does not seem to be changing. Indeed, in the period prior to Brunson’s release—as Turkey’s economy fell under serious strain as a result of the sanctions that the US imposed—Washington articulated a much firmer position on support for the SDF, which could not have been to Ankara’s liking.
It was expressed most authoritatively last Wednesday, by Pompeo himself, who hailed Syria’s Kurds as “great partners.”
In addition to ensuring the enduring defeat of IS, US forces will remain in eastern Syria, where they are partnered with the SDF, until two other objectives are realized, Pompeo explained.
They include a political resolution to the Syrian civil war along the lines of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, as well as the removal of all Iranian forces and Iranian proxies from Syria.
Neither is likely to happen any time soon.