Syrian Kurds call on Damascus to protect Manbij from Turkish invasion

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) called on the Syrian government on Friday to take control of the city of Manbij to protect the area against a threatened Turkish invasion.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) called on the Syrian government on Friday to take control of the city of Manbij to protect the area against a threatened Turkish invasion.

“Due to the invading Turkish state’s threats to invade northern Syria and displace its people similarly to al-Bab, Jarablus and Afrin, we as the People’s Protection Units, following the withdrawal of our forces from Manbij before, announce that our forces will be focusing on the fight against ISIS on all the fronts in the east of the Euphrates,” the YPG said. 

Though there were early unconfirmed reports of Syrian armed forces entering Manbij on Friday morning, these were later disputed and it appears they have so far only been seen at a few locations in Arima, to the southeast. They are expected to deploy immediately only to positions in northern and western Manbij and will not likely take full control of the city for the time being.

The YPG statement concluded, “In conjunction with this, we invite the Syrian government forces which are obliged to protect the same country, nation and borders, to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion.”

Kurdish Affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu told Kurdistan 24 that, for the Syrian Kurds, the priority after president Trump’s recent announcement that he would pull all US forces from the country would be to prevent a Turkish attack on territory east of the Euphrates.

“Like everyone else the Kurds were surprised by Trump’s decision for withdrawal,” he said. “They were not given any signal before. They were not advised to prepare themselves accordingly.”

“The withdrawal put them in a tough situation because Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been openly threatening to launch a new operation against SDF-controlled areas,” he continued.

As a result, he said, the Syrian Kurds were desperately looking for ways “to find alternatives in case of a US withdrawal [from] Syria, so they started talking to the Syrian government and Russia to fill the vacuum left by the Americans.” 

“Although the fight against ISIS is ongoing, the main priority for Kurds is to prevent another operation of Turkey as happened in Afrin because the operation in Afrin targeted Kurdish identity, demography, and heritage in the region.”

Most likely, the entry of the Syrian army is a result of talks between Syrian Kurds and Moscow that have taken place over the past few days.

On Dec. 23, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that an SDF delegation was visiting Moscow. Also, Al Arabiya reported on Monday that two separate delegations were participating. There were reportedly also talks between the Kurdish-led administrations and Damascus.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Mikhail Bogdanov told Bloomberg, “Russia is also ready to mediate between Damascus and the Syrian Kurds in the northeast who have been under US protection, to allow for the return of Syrian government troops and the eventual withdrawal of Turkish forces.”

Moreover, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova announced on Wednesday that Damascus should be in charge of territories previously held by the US-led forces, saying, “The Syrian government should control this part of their territory.” 

Editing by John J. Catherine