Turkey-backed fighters await ‘zero hour’ to attack Syria’s Manbij

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters participate in a training maneuver using an armored vehicle, near the town of Tal Hajar in Aleppo province, on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2019
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Turkey-backed fighters await ‘zero hour’ to attack Syria’s Manbij

  • The YPG fear the US withdrawal will open the way for a threatened Turkish attack into northern Syria
  • The YPG have also left Manbij but retain influence over the Kurdish-allied groups

JARABLUS, SYRIA: Opposition commander Adnan Abu Faisal and his army are encamped near the frontline in northern Syria, waiting to launch an offensive on his home city of Manbij.

But they are not the ones who will decide whether to march on the strategically important city, held for more than two years by Kurdish forces supported by the US.

The decision will depend on Turkey, the main backer of Abu Faisal’s group, and on how contacts evolve between Washington and Ankara over the US plans to withdraw forces from Syria, a move set to reshape a major theater of the war.

The US and Turkey are allies both in the NATO defense alliance and in the fight against Daesh, but Ankara sees the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces that helped the US-led coalition drive Daesh out of Manbij in 2016 as a security threat.

The YPG fear the US withdrawal will open the way for a threatened Turkish attack into northern Syria, including Manbij, but US President Donald Trump has warned Turkey of “economic devastation” if it goes ahead with the attack.

Abu Faisal’s fighters are awaiting orders near Jarablus, a town held by Turkey and its Syrian opposition allies about 35 km south of Manbij. The frontline in the area runs through open farmland where wheat and corn are usually grown.

“We are ready with our forces ... for ‘zero hour’ to begin any military action,” Abu Faisal, whose forces have more than 300 vehicles including pickup trucks and armored vehicles provided by Turkey, told Reuters.

“Preparations are going at full speed,” he said.

Abu Faisal, 36, was an army captain before Syria’s civil war began in 2011 but defected from the Syrian Army in 2012 to join the fight against Bashar Assad.

Abu Faisal helped wrest control of Manbij from the Syrian Army early in the conflict but fled when it was seized by Daesh in 2014 and has not set foot there since then.

The YPG have also left Manbij but retain influence over the Kurdish-allied groups that hold the city 30 km from the border with Turkey.

Manbij lies near the junction of three separate blocks of territory that form spheres of Russian, Turkish and, for now, US influence.

The US military pullout will not only leave Kurds exposed to possible confrontation with Turkey but will also open the way for the expansion of Russian and Iranian sway into the areas that US forces will be leaving.

The US military deployed into Syria as part of the fight against Daesh but officials later indicated wider objectives included containing Iran, Assad’s main regional ally. 

Late last month, the YPG called on Assad’s forces to protect Manbij from attack by Turkey. Syrian government forces, which are backed by Russia, answered the YPG appeal by deploying outside Manbij.

Abu Faisal’s fighters, backed by Turkish forces, made their own advance toward the city the same day but stopped short of an attack.

Decoder

Where is Manbij?

Manbij lies near the junction of three separate blocks of territory that form spheres of Russian, Turkish and, for now, US influence.


Turkey seeks to detain over 300 for alleged Gulen ties

Updated 9 sec ago
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Turkey seeks to detain over 300 for alleged Gulen ties

  • Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen since 2016
  • More than 760 people were detained last week in operations across 76 provinces of Turkey’s 81 provinces, although 122 suspects were later freed under judicial supervision

ANKARA: Turkish police on Tuesday launched raids to detain over 300 people, including military personnel, suspected of ties to a group blamed for a 2016 coup bid, state media reported.
Prosecutors in Turkey’s three biggest provinces — Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir — issued arrest warrants for 324 people as part of different probes into followers of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, the private DHA and the Anadolu state news agency said.
Turkey accuses Gulen of ordering the abortive bid to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, 2016 but he strongly denies the claim.
The Istanbul public prosecutor sought the arrest of 53 active duty soldiers in 15 provinces, including in the metropolis, Anadolu reported.
In the Aegean province of Izmir, the public prosecutor issued 182 arrest warrants with police conducting raids across 42 provinces, including Izmir, DHA reported.
The capital’s public prosecutor said it issued 89 arrest warrants in two separate probes including one looking at the gendarmerie, which is in charge of domestic security.
The Ankara prosecutor’s office said 30 suspects had already been detained.
The operations against alleged members of Gulen’s movement have increased in recent months.
More than 760 people were detained last week in operations across 76 provinces of Turkey’s 81 provinces, although 122 suspects were later freed under judicial supervision.
Sixteen other suspects were released, according to the Ankara public prosecutor’s office.
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen since 2016.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended from the public sector.
Despite criticism from Western allies and human rights defenders over the scale of the crackdown, the police operations and probes continue with rigour.
Turkish officials insist that the raids are necessary to remove the “virus” caused by the Gulen movement’s infiltration of Turkish state bodies.