Battle for Manbij
By Zlatica Hoke (VOA) - Syria Fighting Intensifies Ahead of Sochi Conference, Public Domain, https:/...

International pressure is mounting on Turkey. After condemnation from various countries now the USA has also imposed sanctions on Turkey. As Turkish forces are advancing in Syria, confrontation with Syrian official army is also possible. After capturing the key areas on the border now Turkey is all set to start the battle for Manbij. Manbij is a strategic city with the Arab population in the majority. The strategically important Manbij is under the control of SDF for three years. 

Turkish troops and its allied militia Free Syrian Army have started build up in the vicinity of Manbij. On the other hand, SDF signed a deal with the Syrian regime for protection. This deal was brokered by Russia. 

Some units of Syrian troops have entered Manbij on Tuesday. It was the first time since 2012 that Syrian troops have entered in Manbij. Syrian troops started patrolling in the city and have raised the Syrian flag on various buildings. Meanwhile, Russian defense authorities say that the Russian military is present in the area to avoid a confrontation between Syrian and Turkish troops. Experts opine that SDF is losing its control in these areas. Now it will be a direct battle for Manbij between Syria and Turkey. 

Experts believe that the dream of the State of Kurdistan will be over if Syria extends its control over Manbij and other key areas. Many experts term the SDF-Syria deal as Kurdistan surrender. Many are terming this as “Fall of Kurdistan”. 

Now we will throw some light on the strategic importance of Manbij. Manbij is in the center of northern Syria. It was the center point of many conflicts due to the passage of supply lines through the city. In 2012, the city was captured by Anti Asad forces. In 2014, the city went under the control of ISIL. However, SDF captured the city in 2015. Manbij is the economic hub of Syria. It is a few kilometers away from M-4 highway. M-4 highway connects oil-rich Deir Az Zor, Raqqa and Aleppo to the port city of Latakia. Bashar Al Asad wants to bring the highway under his control. He believes that control over this highway will help in stabilizing the war-torn economy of Syria. Experts opine that Syria was looking for US withdrawal to control the highway. Now with complete Russian backing Syrian regime can easily take control of this highway. However, the Syrian regime will have to make some deal with Turkey to start economic activities. 

On the other hand, Turkey wants to free the area of Euphrates from SDF. Currently, SDF controls Hassakeh and Qamishli. Turkey will disconnect these SDF controlled areas from regime-controlled Aleppo. Control of Manbij will help Turkey to establish safe zones for Syrian migrants living in Turkey. President Erdogan says that Turkish control on Manbij will not be a cause of worry for Russia. Political experts believe that sooner or later Turkey and Russia will negotiate on a proposal for complete SDF withdrawal and giving the control of certain areas in Russian hands. 

Experts opine that controlling Manbij will help Turkey to connect all the Russian controlled areas of northern Syria. Turkey believes that SDF is controlled by People Protection Unit (YPG) and YPG is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). PKK has been working for an autonomous Kurd state for decades. 

Manbij’s total population is about 700,000 to 800,000. About 80 percent of this population is Arab. The city was under control of SDF since 2015. Syrian migrants in Turkey claim that SDF has violated the rights of the local population. They believe that Turkey is trying for the safe return of migrants in Syria. 

In October 2015, Amnesty International accused SDF of carrying human rights violations against Arabs and Turks in Manbij. The Amnesty International further accused SDF of forcefully displacing the local population. However, SDF denied these allegations. 


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