Middle East News

Syria: Manbij Military Council says it agreed with Russia to hand defence of western land to government forces

Manbij Military Council said in a statement that it had reached an agreement with Russia to hand defence of some of the land it controls west of Manbij city to government forces.

Manbij Military Council said in a March 2 statement that it had reached an agreement with Russia to hand defence of some of the land it controls west of Manbij city to government forces.

Manbij Military Council is part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces which captured the area around Manbij from the Islamic State last year.

A translation of part of the statement by the ANF news agency reads: “In order to realize these goals of ours, we as Manbij Military Council state that we have handed over the defense of the line – where villages between the positions of our forces in western Manbij and Turkish-affiliated gangs are located – to Syrian state forces as part of the alliance we have made with Russian officials.”

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated on March 2 that Turkish forces will attack what he called “PKK/PYD forces” in the Manbij area unless the group withdraws, Anadolu Agency reported.

Turkey says the Kurdish PYD political party and the YPG militia – the largest contingent in the SDF – are inextricably linked to the Turkish PKK party which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turjey, the US, the EU and others. The US partners with the SDF in its fight against Islamic State and does not consider the YPG or PYD as terrorists.

Çavuşoğlu said: “We don’t want our US allies to maintain a relationship with a terrorist organization that targets us. We know the US hasn’t picked the YPG as ally,” Bloomberg reported.

He also said that reports of a deal between MMC and Russia were false, Reuters reported.

Attacks on MMC positions

The Manbij Military Council deal with Russia move comes after reports of attacks on March 1 on MMC positions southwest of Manbij city by forces from Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield.

Shervan Derwish, a spokesperson for Manbij Military Council said: “There is a very big attack by the Euphrates Shield and Turkish army on the villages and areas of the Manbij Military Council,” Reuters reported. He named eight villages around 27 km (17 miles) west of Manbij, adding that “there are fierce clashes … and heavy artillery bombardment.”

The Sultan Murad Division, a Free Syrian Army faction of ethnic Turkmen and others strongly backed by Turkey released a video on March 2 that it claims shows its fighters attacking SDF units east of Al-Bab.

Hiwar Kallis, a Free Syrian Army faction which is part of the Euphrates Shield campaign said in a March 1 statement that it had “captured the villages of Tal Turin and Qara east of Al-Bab after violent clashes,” Turkish media outlet Daily Sabah reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on March 2 that SDF forces had retaken the two towns.

YPG spokesperson Redur Xelil said on March 2 that, contrary to some media reporting it has sent reinforcements, the YPG has “not yet received any formal request from Manbij Military Council” for support.

US general says Russia bombed Arab SDF unit

Separately on March 1, Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, commander of the coalition against Islamic State said Russian aircraft had bombed US-backed Syrian Arab Coalition fighters 16km (10 miles) south-west of Manbij on February 28. The mistaken strike within 5km of US forces caused an unspecified number of casualties.

The Syrian Arab Coalition is a component of the SDF.

Townsend said the Russian military thought it was bombing IS positions, and US/Russia deconfliction channels were used to stop the bombing.

However, the Russian defence ministry denied that Russian or Syrian aircraft had struck US-backed forces. “Not one strike was carried out by Syrian or Russian aviation on the districts pointed out by the American side.”​ the ministry said in a statement, AFP reported.

Townsend also said that he believed the YPG posed no threat to Turkey. “I have seen absolutely zero evidence that they have been a threat to or supported any attacks on Turkey from northern Syria over the last two years,” he said.

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