Turkey’s Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, on Saturday said Ankara would prefer the Syrian Army to take control of Manbij over the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Speaking to the press onboard a plane to Istanbul, the prime minister said Turkey did not want the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the area.
“There is new information that regime forces have entered the city [Manbij] and that the YPG is leaving. This is not a negative development for us. We don’t want PYD/YPG elements there. After all Syrian lands belong to Syrians.”
Yildirim also said Turkey did not have contact with Syrian government forces and that they were communicating through Iran and Russia.
“We want the promises [YPG to be ousted] made to us in Manbij to be kept. Things in Manbij could get complicated. The regime, Russia, the USA and FSA are there. Maybe Manbij will be the key to a solution in Syria,” the prime minister said.
Ankara views the YPG, a major component of the multi-ethnic SDF as an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has waged a 33-year insurgency for Kurdish autonomy. The YPG has said it does not have any forces in Manbij.
Parties in the Kurdish-led autonomous region accuse Turkey of being against Kurdish aspirations, a claim Binali Yildirim seemed to confirm on live television when he said the Euphrates Shield operation launched in August 2016 was aimed at “preventing the formation of a Kurdish corridor in northern Syria.”
Clashes between Turkey-backed FSA groups and Manbij Military Council (MMC) fighters – another faction within the SDF – have been ongoing since last week in the west and north of Manbij.
An agreement between the MMC and Russia on Thursday has meant that Syrian government entered a strip of land in Arima, to the west of Manbij, creating a buffer-zone between FSA and MMC forces. The MMC has said the agreement was to prevent attacks on civilians. US special forces deployed to the north of the city are also trying to deter FSA groups from attacking according to reports.