US Has No Plan to Withdraw From Syrian Manbij, Despite Turkey's Warning

© AP Photo / Arab 24 networkThis Tuesday, March 7, 2017 frame grab from video provided by Arab 24 network, shows U.S. forces patrol on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij, a flashpoint between Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters and U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, in al-Asaliyah village, Aleppo province, Syria
This Tuesday, March 7, 2017 frame grab from video provided by Arab 24 network, shows U.S. forces patrol on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij, a flashpoint between Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters and U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, in al-Asaliyah village, Aleppo province, Syria - Sputnik International
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After launching its Olive Branch operation in Syria's Afrin, the Turkish authorities said that the operation was likely to expand towards the neighboring city of Manbij, where the US has some 2,000 of its military personnel deployed.

Pulling US forces from Manbij is "not something we are looking into", US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel said Monday.

Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Ankara will not limit its precautionary measures against Kurdish fighters to Syria's Afrin district but could move to Manbij, also in Aleppo province.

Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) stand near a US military vehicle in the town of Darbasiya next to the Turkish border, Syria April 28, 2017. - Sputnik International
US Does Not Provide Weapons, Training to Kurds in Afrin Pocket - Pentagon
The foreign minister reportedly said that, contrary to US promises, the cities of Manbij and Raqqa were not governed by local councils after being liberated from the Daesh terrorist group, but rather came under the control of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The latter is considered by Turkey to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey.

Following Cavusoglu's statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkish Forces would completely clear the region of terrorists, beginning with the Syrian city of Manbij and throughout the entire Turkey-Syria border.

READ MORE: White House 'Distorted' Account of Erdogan-Trump Talks on Afrin Op — Reports

Prior to Erdogan's speech, the Turkish Armed Forces launched an operation, dubbed Olive Branch, against Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin district. The Turkish government said it had informed Damascus and Moscow, its co-guarantor in the Syrian peace process, of its operation, and has taken into account the position of Tehran, the third guarantor state. The operation, Turkey said, is aimed solely at "terrorists".

Afrin, Syria - Sputnik International
US 'Engaged' With Turkey on Operation in Syria's Afrin - Tillerson
The operation was provoked, as Ankara explained, by the necessity for the country to protect its borders from Kurdish fighters. Ankara maintains that Syrian Kurdish militia are affiliated with the the Kurdistan Workers' Party inside Turkey. The party seeks greater autonomy for Kurds and has carried out numerous attacks inside the country. It is recognized as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington. The US supports Syrian Kurds who have been fighting Daesh alongside the international coalition.

Besides Turkey, the US also deployed troops to Syria in 2014 without obtaining a mandate from either the UN or Syria. Damascus has numerous times called on both countries to withdraw their troops from Syrian territory. 

In his most recent call, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad dubbed such deployments "invasive," adding that Damascus would regard such actions as "occupation." Russia has called for preserving Syria's integrity.

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