Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a visit to Moscow on Friday that he wants a role in the control of the north Syrian town of Manbij along with US-led coalition forces.
Speaking during a press conference with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Erdoğan told reporters that he has not given up his ambition to have a role in the control of Manbij and that he seeks to work with coalition forces.
“There is a process for Manbij. As you all know, we, Turkey and Russia, want cooperation with [US-led] coalition forces [on Manbij] and we want to ensure that locals settle in Manbij. In short, we don’t want terror groups to settle there. Our main desire is to see locals to settle there,” he said.
Underlining that Turkey’s main target is now the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stronghold of Raqqa, Erdoğan said Russia and Turkey have recently coordinated their operations against ISIL in Syria.
Earlier this week, the top military officers of Russia, the US and Turkey met in the southern city of Antalya in an attempt to work out additional steps to prevent unintended incidents between the militaries of all three nations on an increasingly crowded battlefield.
During a visit by Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services Senator John McCain at the end of February, 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 ISIL.
McCain also reportedly discussed the establishment of a “safe zone” in Syria, which was previously voiced by both 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The YPG earlier said it had withdrawn its forces from Manbij and that it is now defended by locals.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.