Middle East

Syria conflict: Kurdish YPG militia to leave Manbij

Members of YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces near Manbij, in northern Syria, on 23 June 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption A YPG-dominated alliance captured Manbij in August after a US-backed offensive

A Syrian Kurdish militia is to withdraw its forces from the northern town of Manbij and move them east of the River Euphrates, as demanded by Turkey.

The Popular Protection Units (YPG) said it had finished training local security units in Manbij, which it captured from Islamic State militants in August.

YPG fighters based there will join the US-backed offensive on IS-held Raqqa.

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organisation and an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

It has repeatedly called for YPG fighters to be moved east of the Euphrates.

Turkey has vowed to prevent the creation of a contiguous Kurdish autonomous region along its border with Syria, and is backing an offensive by Syrian rebels to take control of one of the last remaining stretches of the frontier not controlled by the YPG.

The US special presidential envoy to the global coalition against IS, which backs an alliance of Kurdish and Arab groups that is dominated by the YPG, described Wednesday's announcement about Manbij as a "milestone".

"Our coalition is proud to train and support local forces to defend their home areas as the best formula to ensure [IS] can never return," Brett McGurk wrote on Twitter.

Mr McGurk added that units from the Kurdish-Arab alliance, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were continuing their advance east of the Euphrates to isolate Raqqa.

At a news conference in Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was confident the YPG would withdraw from Manbij on Wednesday or Thursday.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have captured 1,300 sq km (500 sq miles) of territory from IS

He also announced that the rebels whose offensive Turkey is backing were now bearing down on al-Bab, the last IS stronghold in the northern province of Aleppo.

"The Free Syrian Army [rebel force], with the support of our special forces, is about 2km (1.25 miles) away and the siege is continuing as planned," he told a news conference in Ankara.

"There is resistance now, but I don't think it will last much longer."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Al-Bab is the last major urban stronghold of IS in Aleppo province

Since the offensive began in late August, the rebels have driven IS militants out of more than 1,300 sq km (500 sq miles) of territory and recaptured the key border town of Jarablus and the symbolically important village of Dabiq.

Mr Erdogan has said that after taking al-Bab, the rebels will push further south.