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US-backed Kurdish fighters on 'high alert' in Syria’s Manbij after threats from Turkey

US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters after advancing into Manbij in 2016 [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 April, 2018

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to launch an offensive in Manbij, following Ankara's seizure of nearby Afrin in northern Syria.
Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have dug trenches as US-led coalition soldiers patrol the area following threats from Turkey to overrun the northern city.

This is not the first time Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to launch an offensive in Manbij, close to where US troops are stationed as part of a coalition fighting against the Islamic State group. 

Pro-Ankara rebels hold territory near the Turkish border to the north, as well as Al-Bab to the west of Manbij. The city itself is controlled by the SDF.

Only a few hundred metres separate the positions of pro-Ankara rebels and the SDF, which has been the major US partner in fighting the Islamic State. 

"We’re on high alert. There are always skirmishes at night," Kurdish fighter Shiyar Kobani said. "They fire mortar rounds and shell our positions."

Coalition forces carry out regular patrols on the frontline and "have increased their patrolling tours recently," SDF commander Khalil Mustafa said.

About 350 members of the US-led coalition – mostly American troops – are stationed around Manbij, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

The coalition has reportedly sent in reinforcements, heavy artillery and other military equipment, according to military sources in Manbij, the Observatory and pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan.

Trenches have been dug outside the city and checkpoints erected to thoroughly scan the identity papers of those entering the city.

"We’re taking the Turkish threats seriously," Mohammed Abu Adel, the head of the Manbij Military Council said.

In March, Turkish forces seized control of the Kurdish area of Afrin west of Manbij after a two-month assault left dozens of civilians dead and tens of thousands displaced from their homes.

Ankara views the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which controlled Afrin and forms the backbone of the SDF, as a terror group and the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey has been in armed conflict with the PKK since 1984, and both the US and European Union classify it as a terror group.

Turkey's military campaign in northern Syria has raised tensions with NATO ally US, which the SDF is a partner of. News that Ankara planned to launch a campaign in Manbij, where US soldiers are stationed, risked bring the two countries' armed forces in confrontation. 

Agencies contributed to this report

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