ANKARA: Troops from Turkey and the United States launched joint patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij on Thursday, the Turkish defence minister said, part of a bid to ease tensions between the Nato allies.
“The joint patrol in Manbij between Turkish armed forces and the US began today at 3.53pm,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told lawmakers, according to state-run news agency Anadolu.
The city is controlled by the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
The patrol took place around the Sajur River that divides Manbij and the region of Jarabulus, which was captured by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels from the militant Islamic State group in 2016 during Ankara’s first offensive in northern Syria.
Manbij was captured from IS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group dominated by the YPG.
Ankara has repeatedly threatened to attack the city and earlier this week President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had completed preparations for a new operation to “destroy” the YPG in northern Syria.
There are US forces in the Sunni Arab-majority Manbij — which lies just 30 kilometres south of the Turkish border — and Washington has been closely working with the YPG in the fight against IS.
The US support of the Kurdish militia has strained relations with Turkey.
Trump, Erdogan discuss Syria in phone call
US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the Syrian conflict during a phone call on Thursday, the Turkish presidency said in a statement. The statement was released not long after it was announced that Turkish and American troops had begun conducting joint patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij.
The leaders discussed the cooperation agreement in Manbij, which is held by a US-backed Kurdish militia that Turkey deems a terrorist group, the statement said.
They also spoke of Idlib, the last major area in Syria still outside the control of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, where a demilitarised zone has been planned.
The presidents agreed to maintain “close contact” and maintained their “determination” to “further strengthen bilateral relations”, according to the statement.
Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2018