The United States has pledged to stop supplying weapons to a Kurdish militia in Syria, Reuters reports Turkey as saying on Saturday, calling on Washington to immediately remove its troops from a Syrian town of Manbij that Turkish forces plan to target.
Turkey’s air and ground offensive in northwest Syria’s Afrin region against the Kurdish YPG militia has opened a new front in the seven-year, multi-sided Syrian civil war and strained ties with NATO ally Washington.
Ankara views the YPG as terrorists and as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and has been infuriated by US support, including arms and training, for the militia. The Kurdish fighters have played a prominent role in US-led efforts to combat Daesh in Syria.
Since the start of the eight-day-old incursion, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch” by Ankara, President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkish forces would push east towards the town of Manbij, potentially putting them in confrontation with US troops deployed there.
US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, in a telephone call that the United States would no longer provide weapons to the YPG, the Turkish presidency said on Saturday.
“It was emphasised that Turkey’s legitimate security concerns must be paid attention to. It was agreed that close coordination would be carried out in order to avoid misunderstandings,” it said.
The agreement is likely to be seen by Ankara as a substantial diplomatic victory from the incursion, where Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies appear to have made modest advances, as heavy rain and poor weather have hampered air strikes and progress on the ground.
Turkey’s foreign minister said the United States needed to follow up its promise with concrete action, including the immediate withdrawal of its troops from the vicinity of Manbij.
“The United States needs to break its link with (the) terrorist organisation and make them drop their weapons completely. They need to collect the weapons they gave, they need to withdraw from Manbij immediately,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Saturday.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment about ending arms to the YPG or exiting Manbij.