Two US senators visited Washington-backed forces in the northern Syrian province of Manbij yesterday and emphasised the importance of American troops remaining in the region.
Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire toured the town with members of the Manbij Military Council (MMC), an administration linked to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that the US has backed in the fight against Daesh.
In footage published by a local SDF-linked outlet yesterday, Graham can be seen telling MMC commanders the US would not withdraw from the area.
“I will tell President [Donald] Trump it’s important that we stay here to help you. You’re friends of the United States and if we leave, it will be terrible,” Graham said.
Senator Lindsay Graham to Abu Adel (Head of MMC): "I will tell President Trump that it's important that we stay here to help you". pic.twitter.com/1EKoHiFQ5s
— Afarin Mamosta (@AfarinMamosta) July 2, 2018
Whilst American troops are still stationed in Manbij, Trump has said he intends to pull US troops out of Syria, contrary to the view of his defence establishment, which has stressed it wants to retain a presence to fully defeat Daesh fighters.
With the help of the US, the SDF has secured swathes of land in the north of Syria, causing heightened tensions with neighbouring Turkey, due to the group being primarily made up of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an offshoot of the designated terror organisation the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Since January, Turkey has undertaken an air and ground offensive in Syria as part of “Operation Olive Branch” against the YPG in Afrin. In May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to push Turkey’s operations against the YPG further east to Manbij where some 2,000 US special forces are stationed, risking confrontations between the NATO allies.
Relations seemed to be at breaking point, until an agreement was reached during a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington last month, which stipulated that American-backed Kurdish militias would withdraw from region, and a roadmap for Turkish soldiers to administer the area would be drawn up.
The MMC rejected the decision stating that the council was capable of preserving the security and borders of the town against any external threats.
“We are awaiting high-level visits by coalition officials to inform us of the details, and for consultations and discussions,” spokesman Sharfan Darwish concluded at the time.
The YPG has also started to face increasing resistance to its policies from Syrians within its territory, with civilians taking part in protests against the regulations of the Kurdish administration. In the city of Raqqa, a new battalion called the Al-Raqqa Brigade has been formed; calling citizens to resist conscription imposed by the YPG and oppose the federalist system they seek to implement in the areas under their control.