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Kurdish militia to withdraw from strategic Syria town after Turkey-US deal

The Kurdish People's Protection Units spearheaded an offensive to rid Manbij of IS [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 June, 2018

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The Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia has said it will withdraw from Manbij, as Turkey and the United States agreed a roadmap on the fate of the strategic town.

A powerful Syrian Kurdish militia announced on Tuesday it will withdraw from Manbij, as key brokers Ankara and Washington agreed on a roadmap for the future of the strategic town.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) spearheaded a victorious offensive in 2016 to rid Manbij of the Islamic State group, and had kept military advisors in the town to train local forces.

"Now, after more than two years of continuous work and with the Manbij Military Council being self-sufficient in their training, the YPG has decided to pull its military advisors from Manbij," it said in a statement.

The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has ousted IS from swathes of Syria with help from the US-led coalition.

The coalition has both American and French troops stationed in Manbij.

The Pentagon said US troops would remain in the town for now.

"There are no plans to move US forces from Manbij. However, more details of the Manbij roadmap are yet to be hammered out and more details will be announced later," spokesman Eric Pahon said.

For months, Ankara has threatened to march on Manbij, accusing the YPG of being the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is blacklisted in Turkey, but supported by the US in its fight against IS.

Those threats raised fears of a direct confrontation between NATO allies Turkey and America, that talks have tried to tamp down.

An offensive in Syria's Afrin, which Turkey captured from the Kurds earlier this year, also caused tension between the allies because Washington urged Turkey to show "restraint" and said it could harm the fight against IS extremists.

Roadmap agreed

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusolgu this week discussed the Manbij plan in Washington, the State Department said.

On Tuesday, Cavusolgu said the YPG militia will be stripped of their weapons when withdrawing, adding the agreed "roadmap" will begin in 10 days and be carried out within six months. He said in future the model for the YPG's retreat should also be applied to Syria's Raqqa, Kobani and other areas controlled by the militia.

"The step that we will take is important both for Syria's future and as an opportunity to restore our broken relations with the US. That is why this roadmap needs to be fully implemented. Both sides have this determination," Cavusoglu said.

The United States did not promise to declare the YPG a terrorist organisation, he added. 

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