ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) - Turkey would be content with a Syrian Arab Army takeover of the town of Manbij instead of the presence of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), according to the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
"Latest developments suggest the [Syrian] regime forces entered Manbij and that the YPG [Kurdish People's Protection Units] are withdrawing. This is not negative on our part. What we want is YPG's not being there. After all Syrian lands belong to all Syrians," Yildirim told the pro-government Sabah newspaper on Sunday.
Yildirim's remarks came as the Manbij Military Council (MMC), the local branch of the SDF, refuted claims that they were handing over the town's control, some 38 kilometers (23 miles) south of the Turkish border, to the Syrian regime.
In a written statement to the press, the MMC said that they would only leave a demarcation line between themselves and Turkish military-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions across several villages west of Manbij to the Russian and Syrian regime forces.
Turkey made an incursion dubbed the Operation Euphrates Shield into northern Syria in August 2016 shortly after the US-backed SDF captured Manbij.
"The defense duty of Manbij and its surroundings is carried out by the MMC and the international coalition forces. We do not allow passage of any forces into the area," read the statement.
Manbij counted as a strategic gain for the SDF in its bid to unite the Kurdish cantons of Afrin and Kobani, a prospect that has alarmed Turkey.
Upon repeated threats of an invasion of Manbij by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the United States beefed up its special operations forces presence there, sending in more soldiers and armored vehicles to the north of the town.
A US Army spokesperson in charge of the American Anti-IS campaign, Colonel John Dorrian said on Twitter that they took "deliberate action" to reassure coalition members and partner forces, to deter aggression and to keep the focus on defeating the IS.
Despite guarantees by the US, including the former US Secretary of State John Kerry, that the YPG would retreat from Manbij, Turkey remains unfazed as it views the Arab-Kurdish alliance of SDF a mere Kurdish proxy.
With Manbij now surrounded by American, Russian and Syrian armies, it remains unclear what steps Turkey will next take in order to achieve its objective of clearing Kurdish forces from the town it claims to be "belonging to Arabs."
Editing by Ava Homa