BEIRUT (Reuters) - The northern Syrian city of Manbij is under the protection of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State after an increase in “Turkish threats” against the city, a Kurdish-allied militia that controls the city said.
Manbij has come into renewed focus since Turkey declared it the next target of the campaign it is waging with Syrian rebels in northern Syria against both Islamic State and Kurdish fighters who are helping in the U.S. fight against IS.
The Manbij Military Council is part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia alliance dominated by the Kurdish YPG group which is seen by Ankara as an extension of a Kurdish group that is waging an insurgency in Turkey.
A Manbij Military Council statement confirmed the U.S.-led alliance had boosted its presence in Manbij in recent days after “the increase in Turkish threats to occupy the city”.
“They intensified their patrols and brought in armoured vehicles,” Manbij Military Council spokesman Sharfan Darwish told Reuters. Fighting between Turkish-backed forces and Manbij fighters continued to the west of the city on Monday, he added.
“We have not requested any reinforcements from the SDF or from the YPG or anyone else,” he said.
The Turkish government says the YPG remains in Manbij, though the YPG says it withdrew last year after the city was captured from Islamic State.
“We in the Manbij Military Council confirm again that Manbij and its rural areas are under the protection of the Manbij Military Council and under the care of the international coalition and its protection,” the Manbij Military Council statement said.
After clashing with Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels west of Manbij last week, the council declared a deal with Russia to hand villages at the frontline with Turkish forces to Syrian government control.
Darwish said there had been a delay in implementation of the agreement but it remained in place.
He also said a “symbolic” shipment of Russian humanitarian aid had been delivered to the Manbij authorities on March 3 south of the city through a newly opened corridor from the Syrian government-held west.
He described it as one or two vehicles only.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.
Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Nick Macfie and Richard Lough