U.S. coalition forces stationed in the Syrian Kurdish town of Manbij are ready to guard against a threatened Turkish offensive that risks direct confrontation between the NATO allies, a coalition spokesman said Friday.
Turkey last week launched an air and ground assault on the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin in an attempt to oust the American-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist group. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to extend the operation 60 miles east to Manbij, where, unlike in Afrin, the Pentagon maintains U.S. troops.
“Our forces there are well prepared to defend themselves,” coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told the Washington Free Beacon. “We have air coverage over all of our troops so we’re always prepared to defend ourselves, whether it’s from ISIS or any other threat.”
Dillon reaffirmed American support for the Kurdish YPG fighters who make up the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a key U.S. partner in the campaign against the Islamic State. The Trump administration has continued to provide weapons, training, and air support to SDF troops over the protests of Turkey.
“They have played a role in making sure we can stay focused on defeating Daesh,” Dillon said, using an alternative name for ISIS. “That threat still exists, there’s still hardcore fighting happening, and that’s what we are still focused on and we don’t want anything to distract from that.”
Turkey on Thursday again urged the United States to withdraw its support for Kurdish YPG fighters or face “confrontation” with its troops. Erdogan has repeatedly called on President Donald Trump to remove American troops from Syria.
Relations between Washington and Ankara hit a new low last month when the United States and its Kurdish partners announced the creation of a border force in northern Syria to prevent Turkish and American-backed forces from clashing.
Dillon said the patrols will continue until the military is directed otherwise.
In a phone call with Erdogan on Wednesday, Trump pressed Turkey to curtail its military assault and warned it to “avoid any actions that might risk conflict” between the two countries, according to the White House. Turkey disputed the White House account.