Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday in Washington, with the fate of the key city of Manbij in northern Syria topping the agenda.
Ankara is pressing the Americans to withdraw from the city in eastern Aleppo Province, taken by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces from the Islamic State in August 2016.
Manbij has been the focus of Turkey’s attention since a Turkish-rebel offensive removed Kurdish forces from almost all of the Afrin canton in northwest Syria in March. The city is at the western limit of control by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and its YPG militia, including of much of the Kobani and Cezire cantons and the city of Raqqa, in the north and northeast of Syria.
Last week Turkish media reported a plan for the withdrawal from Manbij within 30 days of the YPG, which leads the Syrian Democratic Forces. The proposal sets out joint US-Turkish oversight of forces under a military council and a municipal council, to be formed within 60 days. The arrangements will take “the ethnic distribution of the population” — Manbij is a largely-Arab city — “into consideration”.
Turkey considers the PYD and the YPG to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has fought Ankara’s security forces for more than three decades. In 2016 the Erdoğan Government objected to any move of the YPG west of the Euphrates River, but was unable to act.
Ankara is looking to the Manbij plan as a model for others to further contract the zone of Kurdish control. Çavuşoğlu said other towns will follow if Manbij is a success: “We have to stabilize these places.”
The Foreign Minister claimed that there are “hundreds of thousands of Kurds” who have to fled persecution by the YPG.