Syrian Militia Says Manbij Under Protection of U.S.-Led Alliance

A road sign that shows the direction to Manbij city is seen in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria, March 1. (Reuters/Khalil Ashawi)

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The northern Syrian city of Manbij is under the protection of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State after an increase in “Turkish threats” against the city, a Kurdish-allied militia that controls the city said.

Manbij has come into renewed focus since Turkey declared it the next target of the campaign it is waging with Syrian rebels in northern Syria to keep both Islamic State and Kurdish terrorists away from its border.

The Manbij Military Council is part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia alliance dominated by the Kurdish YPG group which is seen by Ankara as an extension of a Kurdish group that is waging an insurgency in Turkey.

The Turkish government says the YPG remains in Manbij, though the YPG says it withdrew last year after the city was captured from Islamic State in an SDF assault backed by the U.S.-led coalition.

In a statement released late on Sunday, the Manbij Military Council said the U.S.-led coalition had increased its presence in Manbij and the surrounding countryside “after the increase in Turkish threats to occupy the city.”

“We in the Manbij Military Council confirm again that Manbij and its rural areas are under the protection of the Manbij Military Council and under the care of the international coalition and its protection,” the Manbij Military Council said.

After clashing with Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebels west of Manbij last week, the council declared a deal with Russia to hand villages at the front-line with Turkish forces to Syrian government control.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.