Washington's 'Double-Dealing' Leads Turkey to Gear Up for Manbij Offensive

© Sputnik / Umit BektasTurkish army tanks and military personal are stationed in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016
Turkish army tanks and military personal are stationed in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016 - Sputnik International
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Ankara is making preparations for an offensive in the north Syrian city of Manbij because it is skeptical about Washington's promises of a Kurdish withdrawal from the area, retired Turkish Major-General Armagan Kuloglu told Sputnik.

Turkish army tanks make their way towards the Syrian border town of Jarablus, Syria August 24, 2016 - Sputnik International
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On August 24 the Turkish military began an operation in the region of Jarabulus, a Syrian city on the border with Turkey. Jarabulus has been in the hands of Syrian opposition groups since 2012, and in 2013 the Daesh terrorist group took control of the city.

Two days before that, Ankara had started shelling Daesh positions in northern Syria close to Jarabulus, as well as shelling positions of the Kurdish YPG. Turkish representatives said the shelling of Daesh-controlled areas was in response to mortar fire from Jarablus, which landed in the town of Karkamis in Gaziantep Province of Turkey.

Turkey sent 20 tanks and infantry across the border to assist the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) in an offensive against Daesh at Jarabulus. Turkey's Defense Minister Fikri Isik told NTV that Ankara wants to rid the area of Daesh and help the FSA to gain control, rather than Kurdish forces.

"The operation has two fundamental aims. Firstly, providing border security. Secondly, to remove the PYD-YPG’s presence in that area. Until the FSA establishes control, to remain where we are is our right. Unfortunately, there is no Syrian government authority in that area. We are, as Turkey, defending the territorial integrity of Syria. The PYD has to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates. In our talks with the American side a week ago, we were told they will do so within two weeks. They haven’t done so yet. We are watching closely," Isik said.

People stand near the explosion scene behind police cordon following a late night attack on a wedding party that left at least 30 dead in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border on August 21, 2016 - Sputnik International
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Retired Turkish Major-General Armagan Kuloglu told Sputnik that Turkey is feeling deceived by the US, which is cooperating with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG), in Syria. 

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the pro-independence Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a rebel group in Turkey which is fighting for autonomy from Ankara. However, it has not been able to dissuade its allies from cooperating with the Syrian YPG.

Earlier this month the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces drove out Daesh from the city of Manbij, 32km from Jarabulus. Kuloglu said that Turkey may feel compelled to push further into Syrian territory if it feels threatened by broken promises from the US about the extent of Kurdish control in northern Syria.

"The US promised Turkey that the presence of Kurdish forces in Manbij would end, and they would depart to east of the Euphrates River. If that promise is not kept, then there is a need for an operation (in Manbij). However, Free Syrian Army troops need assistance for this kind of operation, so it is inevitable that in that case Turkey will participate," Kuloglu said.

This picture taken around 5 kilometres west from the Turkish Syrian border city of Karkamis in the southern region of Gaziantep, on August 25, 2016 shows Turkish Army tanks driving to the Syrian Turkish border town of Jarabulus. - Sputnik International
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"Perhaps it will take place in the next few days, because Turkey has already sent extra reinforcements, weapons and military equipment to the region. For Ankara, clearing this region of Kurdish (militia) groups is essential, because it fears that after Manbij the Kurds will go further, to Marea and Al-Bab and thus will be able to create a corridor linking Kurdish territory. Turkey is insisting on the departure of Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates in order to prevent that."

Kuloglu said that Washington has put itself in a difficult position, because while it wants to maintain cooperation with the Kurdish-led FSA in other areas of Syria, its ally Ankara is intent on weakening the Kurds.

"The US supports Turkey in the fight against Daesh, but at the same time it is telling Ankara not to clash with the Syrian Kurds. America is double-dealing."

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Istanbul, Turkey January 23, 2016, in this handout photo provided by the Presidential Palace - Sputnik International
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"Firstly, yes, it wants the Kurds to move the east of the Euphrates, but why does the US need that? In order to use the Kurdish forces in an operation to free Raqqa. Meanwhile, the PYD's main task is to complete the unification of the (Kurdish-held) regions, creating a corridor. The US does not want the Syrian Kurdish forces to be diminished before the Raqqa operation begins, that's why they condemn the clashes between Turkey and the PYD. The US needs to convince the Kurds as quickly as possible to move east of the Euphrates, since Turkey sees the Kurdish presence west of the Euphrates as a threat to its security," said Kuloglu, who anticipates continuing conflict between Washington and Ankara over the issue.

"Perhaps there will be some temporary disagreements between Turkey and the US about the departure of Kurdish troops from the Western territory. In general, the near future will see a lot of negotiations and clashes between the parties, who are trying to protect their interests in the region."

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