Syria: In Disputed Manbij, the U.S. and Turkey Strike a Deal

3 MINS READJun 5, 2018 | 14:47 GMT
The Big Picture

Turkey's relationship with the United States is of critical geopolitical importance, impacting the United States' pursuit of its interests in Syria and the wider Middle East, as well as the great power competition between Russia and the United States. Tracking certain Turkish-U.S. developments, such as the Manbij compromise, helps in assessing the direction and health of the relationship.

After extensive talks between the United States and Turkey over the Manbij region in Syria, the two sides appear to have reached a compromise. On June 4, following a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the two countries released a joint statement indicating that Washington and Ankara have endorsed a "road map towards ensuring security and stability" in the Manbij region. Turkish and U.S. reports following the statement indicated that the agreement involved vacating the remaining members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from the Manbij region in exchange for Turkish cooperation in stabilizing the area.

Ever since Turkey launched an offensive on the YPG positions in the northern Syrian city of Afrin as part of Operation Olive Branch in January, Ankara has repeatedly threatened to extend its attack to include the YPG forces remaining in and around Manbij. In previous assessments, Stratfor forecasted that Turkey would be highly unlikely to follow up on its threats because of the presence of U.S. forces in the vicinity. Instead, Stratfor analysis noted that the more likely outcome was a compromise between Ankara and Washington in which the YPG would be obligated to vacate the area.

A Map of Syria and the Manbij Compromise

This agreement has now been struck. In accordance with the terms, the YPG announced June 5 that its military advisers will leave the Manbij region. The deal will help bridge the wide gap that has emerged between Turkey and the United States over the Syrian conflict, but it will not end the disagreements between them by itself. Washington remains considerably concerned about Turkey's close ties with Russia, as well as what it perceives as increasingly authoritarian domestic behavior. Even after the withdrawal, Turkey will remain hostile toward the YPG, which is a key U.S. partner in Syria, and will continue to regard the YPG-allied Manbij Military Council with suspicion.

There is also the chance for further fallout between the United States and the YPG as a result of the agreement. The YPG was already upset by the lack of U.S. support during the Afrin campaign, and this new pressure on them to withdraw from the Manbij region is likely not a welcome development. But compromise deals like this one are the best that the United States can hope for as it navigates the complicated terrain of the Syrian conflict, trying to maintain its relationship with Turkey while also continuing to partner with the YPG.

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