FRI 15 - 2 - 2019
Date: Jul 3, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Senator Graham in Syria: 'Terrible' if American troops leave
Agence France Presse
QAMISHLI, Syria / ISTANBUL: Two U.S. senators visited the northern Syrian town of Manbij Monday, where talks between Washington and Ankara narrowly avoided a stand-off between the NATO allies earlier this year.

Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire toured the town with members of the Manbij Military Council.

“The aim of the visit was to see the security situation in Manbij,” its spokesman Sherfan Darwish said.

The MMC is linked to the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that ousted Daesh (ISIS) from Manbij in 2016 with help from a U.S.-led coalition.

American and French coalition troops are still stationed in Manbij, but there were fears earlier this year they could be caught up in a clash with Turkey.

Ankara has been infuriated by U.S. support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the SDF, and has threatened to target Manbij because of the presence of Kurdish fighters there, alongside U.S. troops.

But the U.S. and Turkey agreed on a “road map” last month that avoided a confrontation, and Turkish troops began patrolling areas to the town’s north under the deal.

It was not clear whether the independent patrols were separate from the joint actions agreed upon between Ankara and Washington earlier this month, but a spokesman for the Pentagon told Reuters the moves were being coordinated.

A day after the Manbij road map was endorsed, the YPG said its military advisers would leave Syria’s Manbij and that its fighters had already withdrawn from the area in November 2016.

In footage published by a local SDF-linked outlet Monday, Graham could be seen telling MMC commanders the U.S. would not withdraw from the area.

“I will tell President [Donald] Trump it’s important that we stay here to help you. You’re friends of the United States and if we leave, it will be terrible,” Graham said.

Trump has said he intends to pull U.S. troops out of Syria but his defense establishment has stressed it wants to retain a presence to fully defeat Daesh.

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency since the ’80s. More than 40,000 have died in clashes.

Turkey has launched two cross-border military campaigns along with Syrian rebels in the past two years. The first, dubbed “Euphrates Shield,” was aimed at driving away Daesh and YPG forces from the border, and the second, called “Olive Branch,” aimed to fully clear the YPG from the town of Afrin.

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