The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are accused of handing over territory in northern Syria to the Assad regime, in a deal brokered by Russia. The handover of five villages west of Manbij, Aleppo governorate, is the first transfer in what is said to be a developing alliance, made amid a Turkish-rebel offensive in Syria’s north. “The handover has taken place,” Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, the SDF’s local command, said in a statement reported by Reuters. The development follows the taking of the strategic town of al-Bab by Turkish-led forces. Pro-Assad forces meanwhile advanced south and east of al-Bab, linking with Kurdish-controlled territory for the first time.
Captured by the SDF from ISIS last June, Manbij has been a likely point of conflict between the Turkish-rebel offensive and the SDF, which has been supported by the US since its creation in 2015. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pledged that Manbij will be taken as part of a drive on Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital in northern Syria. Despite pressure from Turkey, the US has apparently been unable or unwilling to press the SDF to pull out of Manbij.
Turkish, Russian and US military commanders are meeting for the first time over the couse of the Syrian conflict this week. The meeting is being held in Antalya in southern Turkey, bringing together Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Russian Chief of Gen. Staff General Valery Gerasimov. As the meeting opened, a statement said the three men discussed security issues concerning Syria and Iraq, without providing details. (EA Worldview, March 7)