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Erdogan phones Trump, says Turkey ready to ensure security of north Syria city

In this Nov. 7, 2018, photo released by the U.S. Army, U.S. soldiers gather for a brief during a combined joint patrol rehearsal in Manbij, Syria.
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Zoe Garbarino via AP

Turkey is ready to take over ensuring the security of Manbij in northern Syria in order "not to lose time," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a phone call with US counterpart Donald Trump.

Manbij, controlled by Kurdish fighters supported by the US military, had been hit on Wednesday by an attack claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) which killed 19 people, including four Americans.

In their second phone conversation in less than a week, Erdogan told Trump that this attack was a "provocation" aiming to impact the decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, the state news agency Anadolu reported.

- (AFP)

Turkey has been threatening for months to launch an offensive in Manbij to drive out the militia of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG however has been backed by the United States in the fight against the IS jihadists.

But Ankara considers the YPG a "terrorist organisation" and doesn't want to see installed along its border, an embryonic Kurdish state which might reinforce the PKK separatists inside Turkey.

To lower tensions, Turkey and the US last May agreed a road map including the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij and installing joint Turkish-American patrols, which began in November.

Jonathan WALTER (AFP)

The two NATO allies are also looking to create a "security zone" aiming to separate the territories held by the YPG from the Turkish border.

The Sunday call did not precipitate any immediate change in US policy, with both leaders committing only to "continue to pursue a negotiated solution for northeast Syria that achieves our respective security concerns," a laconic statement by the White House read.

The Syria pullout has become a complicated political issue for Donald Trump, who is also fighting a drawn out government shutdown. 

Trump reportedly decided to pull out of Syria over a phone call with the Turkish leader, with many, including in his administration, doubting the impulsive decision.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was only one of those high-ranking officials who resigned in protest at the policy. 

HANDOUT (TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP)

Last week, Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican senator visited Erdogan in Ankara

"I would hope that President Trump would slow the withdrawal until we truly destroy ISIS," he told a press conference in the Turkish capital, using an acronym for the Islamic State extremist group.

He warned any hasty pullout could lead to a "nightmare" scenario for Israel because of increasing Iranian influence in the war-torn country and for Turkey because of its national security concerns.

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