Kurdish forces from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) have withdrawn from the town of Manbij as part of an agreement with the Syrian government, the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported on 2 January.
It cited a statement from the Syrian Ministry of Defence (MoD) as saying that a convoy of more than 30 vehicles had left the town and crossed to the eastern side of the Euphrates river. The MoD said information indicated that around 400 Kurdish fighters had left Manbij. SANA released a video showing dozens of vehicles carrying men waving YPG flags crossing the Qarah Qawzaq bridge to the eastern side of the Euphrates.
The YPG captured Manbij from the Islamic State in 2016 but was supposed to withdraw last year under a deal agreed by the US and Turkey. Ankara claimed the YPG did not withdraw and threatened to attack the town to expel Kurdish fighters that it considers to be terrorists belonging to the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK). The US military has established observation posts around Manbij to deter an attack by the Turkish military and allied Syrian groups.
Ankara also threatened to launch a military operation into YPG-held territory east of the Euphrates, prompting the US military to establish additional observation posts in late 2018.
President Donald Trump appeared to be clearing the way for Turkey when he announced on 19 December that US troops would be withdrawn from Syria.
That prompted the YPG to request that Damascus deploy troops to prevent a Turkish assault. “We invite the Syrian government forces which are obliged to protect the same country, nation, and borders, to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion,” the YPG General Command said in a statement released on 28 December.
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