The Manbij Military Council (MMC) announced that they have captured several “sleeper cells” composed of pro-Turkish militants this week. The captured men were supposedly part of the Turkish military’s Operation Euphrates Shield and were attempting to “destabilize” the region. The MMC’s commander, Mohammed Abu Adel told local media that, “The Euphrates Shield forces wanted to secretly form a network in Manbij. We are investigating it. We have also arrested some who have connections with Euphrates Shield. They want to destabilize the situation for civilians.” The MMC is a close affiliate to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its ranks are predominantly Kurdish. The U.S. military headed international coalition has oversight on both organizations.

The MMC released a statement after the operation that led to the cell’s capture claiming that the council believes the men (and subsequent Turkish government) were behind an improvised explosive device (IED) attack that happened at the end of last month. The on-site commander reported no casualties however that same day, an IED killed two coalition soldiers and injured several SDF soldiers. The statement released by the MMC said, “The aim of the people involved is to … give the false impression of instability among the local population of Manbij.”

The Turkish military’s Operation Olive Branch captured the formerly Kurdish held city of Afrin earlier this year. Since the city’s capture, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to push into Manbij. The aim of the operation is to eliminate the Kurdish YPG and PKK elements south of its current border, Turkey views both groups as terrorist organizations. While the Turkish military has yet to mount a direct attack on the Manbij region, commander Abu Adel says, “Instead, Turkey sends groups to the city secretly, carries out explosions, and attaches explosives to vehicles.” Adel did admit that many of the residents in Manbij had Turkish heritage or affiliation, “but 70 percent of people are with the Manbij council.” The SDF also captured French Islamic State jihadist Adrian Lionel Kayali, aka Abu Osama, this month in Raqqa; he was a key member involved in the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice.

Featured image: Manifestations of joy in Manbij after the capture of the city by the Syrian Democratic Forces in May 2016. by Mahmud Balî (VOA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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