Intel: Why Turkey is threatening Damascus after Manbij attack

al-monitor Turkish soldiers ride a military vehicle in the Manbij countryside, Syria, Dec. 28, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi.

Jan 18, 2019

This week’s suicide attack in Manbij has provided fresh ammunition for Turkey to move ahead with its plans to attack the Syrian Kurdish groups across the border. But Ankara is worried that it’s not the only actor trying to play the chaotic situation to its advantage and is eager to avoid a confrontation with Damascus.

Why it matters: Turkey warned the Syrian government today not to use the planned US withdrawal as a pretext to try to fill the vacuum. This week’s bombing, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said, proves the need to “fully” implement the Manbij road map agreed to by Turkey and the United States to withdraw Kurdish forces from the mainly Arab town. Ankara argues that US-backed Kurdish groups aren’t capable of maintaining security and stability in the regions under their control.

“The regime’s provocative attempts … to enable regime forces to enter Manbij must not be allowed,” Aksoy said. “Nobody should take advantage of the situation,” he added.

Goodbye, USA: The US troop withdrawal increases the chances of a deal between the Kurds and President Bashar al-Assad’s government that would secure Kurdish groups’ presence in Manbij and other areas along Turkey’s southern border, fueling Ankara’s national security concerns. Syrian Kurdish representatives have already expressed their willingness to reconcile with the Assad government in the face of a looming Turkish military incursion.

What’s next: The critical question is whether the Syrian government and, perhaps more importantly, Russia would lean toward such a reconciliation. Moscow in particular is wary of endangering its close ties with Turkey.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Jan. 23 in Moscow. The future of Manbij is expected to top their discussions on Syria.

Know more: Check out our previous reporting here and here to learn how the Manbij attack might change the equation in northern Syria.

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