Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now begun threatening to conquer the Kurdish city of Manbij in northern Syria. Manbij is the staging area for a large portion of the Syrian Democratic Forces as well as the United States military. Two coalition service members (a Delta Force and SAS soldier) were recently killed there by an IED left over from its previous occupiers, the Islamic State. Now, trenches are being dug and checkpoints set-up throughout the area by SDF members under the guidance of coalition military advisers as fighter jets patrol the sky sending a clear message that a stand will be made should the Turkish military advance.
Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army militia are currently in control of territory just to the north and west of Manbij; specifically they occupy the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Bab. However, the distance between the two forces’ lines is much closer with only a few hundred yards separating the trenches and bunkers of SDF and FSA forces. The Kurdish-based SDF have continued to consolidate and organize as spring reaches the region; many have been relocated from the south of Rojava where they were engaged with the remaining Islamic State forces. An SDF soldier identified as Shiyar Kobane interviewed by local media said, “We’re on high alert. There are always skirmishes at night, they fire mortar rounds and shell our positions.” He spoke with other soldiers occupying a small, blown out home filled with bullet holes and damaged walls.
Nearby, a small U.S. military forward operating base is remaining active with helicopters and armored vehicles coming and going. The coalition soldiers regularly patrol the front lines and evaluate the SDF-established defenses. SDF commander Khalil Mustafa confirmed that coalition forces, “have increased their patrolling tours recently.” Nearly 350 coalition soldiers are stationed in Manbij with the majority of the numbers being composed of U.S. military. Heavy artillery and an influx of reinforcements have been brought in recently to bolster defenses despite President Trump’s talk of pulling out of Syria.
The Manbij Military Council, a major contributor to the SDF, does not take Turkey’s threats lightly. Council head Mohammed Abu Adel informed local media that, “We’re taking the Turkish threats seriously. The international coalition has increased the number of its forces in Manbij.” Foreign affairs representative Abdulkarim Omar insisted that, “It’s premature to speak of any American withdrawal. Terrorism is still present.” While the Turkish military is an immediate threat, the long-term goal is still to push out and eliminate the remaining pockets of the Islamic State.
Featured image: In this picture taken Thursday, March 29, 2018, a fighter from the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council stands behind a sandbags barrier as he looks toward Turkish-backed fighter’s position, at the front line of Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. The front line has grown more tense in recent days as Turkey threatens to advance on the town to clear it of the U.S-backed fighters. U.S troops have increased their patrols in the area, local commanders say, to prevent an outbreak of fighting and to prevent Turkey from advancing on Manbij. | AP Photo/Hussein Malla