US Senator McCain visits Turkey amid conflict over liberating Manbij

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ANKARA, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 20 : Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) meets with US-Senator John McCain (L) in Ankara, Turkey on February 20, 2017. AFP

Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services Senator John McCain visited Turkey on Monday and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım for wide-ranging discussions amid divergence between Ankara and Washington over the liberation of the Syrian town of Manbij by the US-backed Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group.

According to reports in the Turkish media, Turkish officials conveyed Ankara’s dissatisfaction with the US in its partnership with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey believes is the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

McCain also reportedly discussed the establishment of a “safe zone” in Syria, which was previously voiced both by President Erdoğan and his American counterpart Donald Trump, with Turkish officials during the meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara.

Since the US declared the YPG a strong “local partner on the ground” in the fight against ISIL and provided military support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which mainly consists of YPG militia, Erdoğan has accused Washington of arming terror groups in Syria against Turkey.

The YPG earlier said it had withdrawn its forces from Manbij and that it is now defended by locals. However, Turkey claims that YPG forces control the north Syrian town, which is only 35 kilometers from the Turkish border.

The Turkish government considers the YPG crossing to the western bank of the Euphrates, where Manbij sits, a “red line.”

As part of Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey sent tanks across the border to help Syrian rebels drive ISIL from the border city of Jarabulus in late August, in a dramatic escalation of its involvement in the Syrian civil war. Seventy-three Turkish soldiers have been killed during the operation since August of last year.

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