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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Turkey says US needs to withdraw from Syria's Manbij area 'immediately'

Earlier, Ankara said Washington had also reiterated a pledge to stop arming the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

A member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia stands guard in fields outside the Kurdish town of Jandairis, near the Syrian-Turkish border, west of the city of Afrin, on January 26, 2018. AFP
A member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia stands guard in fields outside the Kurdish town of Jandairis, near the Syrian-Turkish border, west of the city of Afrin, on January 26, 2018. AFP

The United States needs to withdraw from northern Syria's Manbij region immediately, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday.

He also said Turkey wanted to see concrete steps by the US to end its support for the Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara is fighting in northern Syria.

Earlier, Ankara said the US had reiterated a pledge to stop arming the People's Protection Units (YPG).

Saturday marked the eight day of a Turkish offensive against the YPG in the town of Afrin.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that his country's forces would sweep Kurdish fighters from the Syrian border and could push all the way east to the frontier with Iraq, including Manbij. But such a move would risk confrontation with US forces based in Kurdish-held territory.

The Turkish presidency said on Saturday that US national security adviser HR McMaster "confirmed" to Mr Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, in a phone call late on Friday that Washington would "not give weapons to the YPG".

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It came after Turkish officials said in November last year that US president Donald Trump had told them Washington would no longer supply weapons to the YPG.

Ankara launched its operation against the YPG, dubbed "Olive Branch", on Saturday last week, with Turkish ground troops and air strikes supported by Syrian Arab opposition fighters.

Health workers say they fear the offensive will lead to a humanitarian "tragedy" as medicines run short and the number of civilian casualties keeps rising.

"Medication and humanitarian aid necessary to help civilians will soon run out," said Khalil Sabri Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Afrin which had received dozens of civilian casualties in the past week.

Meanwhile, relations between Nato allies Ankara and Washington have been further strained by the offensive, with the US urging restraint and fearing an impact on the fight against ISIL.

One of the issues marring relations between the two countries was the US supplying the YPG — which has spearheaded the anti-extremist fight — with arms since last year in battles against ISIL.

During Friday's call, Mr McMaster and Mr Kalin cited Turkey's "legitimate security concerns" and agreed to co-ordinate closely in order to prevent misunderstandings, the presidency said.

Just days earlier, Washington and Ankara had bitterly contested each other's accounts of a telephone conversation between Mr Erdogan and Mr Trump.

A White House statement said Mr Trump had urged Turkey to "limit its military actions", but a Turkish official said this was not an accurate reflection of the leaders' call.

Ankara accuses the YPG of being a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

But the Syrian Kurdish militia has been working closely with Washington against ISIL in Syria.

With the support of the US-led coalition's air power and special forces, the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance led the battle last year against ISIL during which the extremists lost their de facto capital of Raqqa.