The United States will not withdraw troops from a strategic city in northern Syria that Turkey has threatened to attack, the top U.S. general for the region says.
During a trip to the Middle East, Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, told CNN that withdrawing U.S. forces from Manbij is "not something we are looking into."
Last week, Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish forces in the northern Syrian region of Afrin. Turkish officials have said they will continue pushing east to Manbij and have called on U.S. forces to immediately withdraw from the town.
Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, to be terrorists connected to outlawed Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK. But the U.S. considers the Syrian Kurds the most effective force fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the ground there.
Turkey’s offensive in Afrin has led to rising tensions between Ankara and Washington. Still, U.S. officials say the YPG elements in Afrin are not among those that U.S. forces have supported.
But an attack on the YPG in Manbij, where U.S. forces are operating, could put U.S. troops in the crossfire and cause U.S.-Turkish tensions to reach a boiling point.
Votel told reporters traveling with him that the U.S. has to balance the concerns of Turkey with the mission to defeat ISIS.
“There’s two key objectives we have to keep in mind,” Votel said, according to Defense One. “One is we have to address Turkey’s very real concerns about security along their border and terrorist organizations, particularly the PKK that has terrorized their country for a long, long period of time. That is a legitimate concern. We acknowledge that; we have always acknowledged that.
“The other objective we have to do is we have to ensure a lasting defeat of ISIS. And the partner that we have chosen on the ground is the Syrian Democratic Forces, that includes Kurds and Arabs. There’s obviously a rub here — the Kurds that we operate with, the Turks view them as, part and parcel, as PKK. We do not view them that way.”
On Saturday, Turkey said that national security adviser H.R. McMaster pledged the U.S. would stop supplying weapons to the Kurds.