Turkish, American troops to begin joint patrols in Manbij
Turkish and American troops could begin conducting joint patrols in a matter of days around the northern Syrian city of Manbij within the coming days, the top US commander for the Middle East said on Sunday.
Army General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, told reporters travelling with him that the soldiers' training is expected to last "several more days," and then will transition to combined patrols.
The Manbij patrols are part of a road map that Ankara and Washington agreed on in June to defuse tensions amid Turkish demands for the withdrawal of a US-backed Kurdish militia that freed the town of Manbij from the Islamic State group in 2016.
The US and Turkish troops have been conducting independent patrols along the border, and joint patrols are considered a way to tamp down potential violence between the various groups there.
"We're right on track with where we want to be," Votel said. "We've been through a very deliberate and mutually agreed upon training program."
He said the platoons will include security personnel. He did not provide details on the size of the units or how many US and Turkish forces will be involved in the program. US platoons can often include a couple dozen soldiers.
The initial instruction of Turkey's military trainers began at the beginning of the month, then all the troops were brought together for training to ensure they can all communicate, work together and operate with the same military tactics and procedures, particularly if there is an attack or other incident.
The training had been delayed slightly while equipment was brought in and the two countries worked out the details of how the operations would be conducted.
Manbij has been a major sticking point in the strained relations between the US and Turkey. Ankara considers the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units, or YPG, a terror group that is linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
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The patrols will add to the security of the area, Votel said, adding that right now Manbij is stable and "we want to double down and consolidate our gains."
In July, the Manbij Military Council, which administers the town, said the YPG units once stationed there had completed their withdrawal. Turkey's Foreign Ministry called reports of the alleged withdrawal "exaggerated" and said they didn't "reflect the truth".