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Syria: Standoff in Manbij
A convoy of US forces armored vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on 05MAR17. (AFP/Getty)
The Pentagon announced on 06MAR that additional US troops have been deployed to Syria to quell fighting between the various warring parties and encourage them to refocus their efforts on defeating the Islamic State. The city of Manbij has become the center of geopolitical intrigue extending beyond the fight against the Islamic State, as multiple international powers and non-state militias compete with each other for territory. The United States has backed the Kurdish-Arab alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who expelled the Islamic State from Manbij last year. On 01MAR Turkey threatened to strike Kurdish forces if they do not withdraw from Manbij. Turkey briefly backed down from that threat this week, only to issue renewed threats against the Kurdish YPG forces (a SDF-affiliated militia) in Manbij on 08MAR. Meanwhile, Russian and Syrian regime troops are camped just outside the city, and move through it under the premise of delivering humanitarian aid.
News summary of events during the week of 06MAR17 – 13MAR17
- 06MAR: US Defense Department spokesman Navy Capt Jeff Davis announced that the Pentagon has sent additional US troops into northern Syria to deter rival powers from targeting each other instead of the Islamic State group. (AFP)
- 06MAR: Turkish PM Yildirim stepped back from threats to strike Syrian Kurdish militia forces deployed in Manbij, stating “It makes no sense to launch an operation in Manbij without the cooperation of Russia and the United States.” (AFP)
- 07MAR: The United Nations says at least 26,000 people have fled Aleppo since 25FEB, many of whom have headed towards the town of Manbij and surrounding villages. (AFP)
- 08MAR: Some 130,000 people who have fled to the northern Syrian city of Manbij and nearby rural areas are in dire need of international aid, the head of a Manbij civil affairs council said. (Reuters)
- 09MAR: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu threatened to strike against US-backed Kurdish YPG militia in Manbij if they find them present in the city. (Reuters)
- 09MAR: The Turkish military shelled Syrian government forces and their allies in the countryside near the northern city of Manbij. (Reuters)
- 09MAR: The United States is sending an additional 400 troops to Syria to help prepare for the looming fight for Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, American officials said. (NYT)
- 10MAR: The Syrian army accused Turkey of attacking its positions in the northern city of Manbij with artillery and rockets, causing several casualties in the ranks loyal to the regime. (EFE)
- 10MAR: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signaled in Moscow that he was not giving up on his ambition to take a role in controlling the Syrian town of Manbij, telling Vladimir Putin he sought to work with a US-led coalition there. (Reuters)
- 11MAR: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he yet to see “anything concrete” from US President Donald Trump over his vow to defeat Islamic State and called US forces deployed in Syria (including those around Manbij) “invaders” because they were there without government permission. (Reuters)
- 13MAR: Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces took some towns near Manbij, President Tayyip Erdogan said, marking their latest advance against Islamic State militants south of Turkey’s border. (Reuters)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the standoff in Manbij
- @arisroussinos – Aris Roussinos, freelance journalist
- @AylinaKilic – Aylina Kılıç, Reporter focused on Turkish-Kurdish conflict, Kurdish issues, and Northern Syria
- @CarlaBabbVOA – Carla Babb, Pentagon Correspondent, Voice of America
- @ragipsoylu – Ragıp Soylu, Washington Correspondent, Daily Sabah
- @vvanwilgenburg – Wladimir van Wilgenburg, Freelance journalist, Middle East Eye
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the standoff in Manbij
Mustafa Akyol, Turkish commentator and senior visiting fellow, Wellesley College’s Freedom Project
“Stopping PYD gains in Syria is the No. 1 target for Turkey. Turkey would prefer the Assad regime to take over.”
- “Three-Way Contest for Raqqa to Shape Mideast”, Wall Street Journal, 09MAR
Noah Bonsey, Analyst, International Crisis Group
“Turkey has always set the Euphrates as a red line. The problem is it will be a huge gamble to really do that with US, Russia and YPG, who are a proficient fighting force.”
- “Turkey’s determination against Kurds alienates US, Russia”, AP, 11MAR17
Haid Haid, Associate fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House
“The three main parties are willing to sit and talk, which means at least there is some kind of common ground and the possibility of an agreement in future.”
- “Russian, Turkish and US commanders meet to calm worsening Syrian ‘proxy war’”, The Independent, 08MAR17
Julianne Smith, Senior Fellow and Director, Strategy and Statecraft Program, Center for a New American Security
“This is one of the most nuanced and complex conflicts I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not black and white. There isn’t good guys and bad guys, in fact it’s anything but…It’s a signal to the [Trump] administration: Time is short. Pick a side. But the problem is picking a side is the hardest part in all of this.”
- “Manbij and the Unforgiving Complexity of the Syrian War,” US News and World Report, 10MAR17
Aaron Stein, Resident Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council
“If we’re going to go into Syria and fight the Islamic State, we’re going to create a whole lot of wreckage. We’ve interjected ourselves into a multisided war.”
- “With a show of Stars and Stripes, U.S. forces in Syria try to keep warring allies apart”, Washington Post, 08MAR17
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the standoff in Manbij
- ANALYSIS: Battle for Manbij shows Syria’s civil war is almost over – and it looks like Bashar Assad has won
Media: The Independent (UK)
Byline: Patrick Cockburn
Date: 06 March 2017
Winners and losers are emerging in what may be the final phase of the Syrian civil war as anti-Isis forces prepare for an attack aimed at capturing Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in Syria. Kurdish-led Syrian fighters say they have seized part of the road south of Raqqa, cutting Isis off from its other territory further east.
Isis is confronting an array of enemies approaching Raqqa, but these are divided, with competing agendas and ambitions. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose main fighting force is the Syrian Kurdish Popular Mobilisation Units (YPG), backed by the devastating firepower of the US-led air coalition, are now getting close to Raqqa and are likely to receive additional US support. The US currently has 500 Special Operations troops in north-east Syria and may move in American-operated heavy artillery to reinforce the attack on Raqqa.
- Turkey steps back from striking Syria’s Manbij
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 06 March 2017
Istanbul, March 6, 2017 (AFP) – Turkey on Monday stepped back from threats to strike Syrian Kurdish militia forces deployed in Manbij, a former Islamic State group bastion, unless it was in cooperation with Russia and the United States.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s announcement came after Ankara on Thursday threatened to strike Syrian Kurdish forces — considered “terrorists” by Turkey — if they did not withdraw from the flashpoint town of Manbij.
- Syria’s Manbij council urges aid for 130,000 displaced
Byline: Tom Perry
Date: 08 March 2017
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Some 130,000 people who have fled to the northern Syrian city of Manbij and nearby rural areas are in dire need of international aid, the head of a Manbij civil affairs council said on Wednesday.
The displaced had mostly left areas near Manbij that were held by Islamic State in the last week, Farouk al-Mashi said, adding that their needs included food and medical aid.
- U.S. Is Sending 400 More Troops to Syria
Media: New York Times
Byline: Michael R Gordon
Date: 09 March 2017
WASHINGTON — The United States is sending an additional 400 troops to Syria to help prepare for the looming fight for Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, American officials said on Thursday.
The increase, which includes a team of Army Rangers and a Marine artillery unit that have already arrived in the country, appears to represent a near-doubling of the number of American troops in Syria.
- Assad says yet to see real steps from Trump on Islamic State
Byline: Tom Perry
Date: 11 March 2017
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he yet to see “anything concrete” from U.S. President Donald Trump over his vow to defeat Islamic State and called U.S. forces deployed in Syria “invaders” because they were there without government permission.
Assad, in an interview with Chinese TV station Phoenix, said “in theory” he still saw scope for cooperation with Trump though practically nothing had happened in this regard.