Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked American forces stationed in Syria's Manbij to leave as Ankara presses ahead with its anti-Kurdish military campaign in the region. Erdogan has said that Manbij city will be returned to "its true owners" once the YPG Kurdish militia is cleared from the place.
On 20 January, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch vowing to root out Kurdish militants, considered by the country as "terrorists", from Syrian territories, especially Afrin. Following the advance in Afrin, the Turkish forces aimed at pushing ahead in Manbij, where US forces have been deployed in a training capacity.
The Turkish president said: "They [the US] told us that they would leave Manbij, but why are you still there now?" Washington was a key backer of Kurdish fighters, who were at the frontline of the battle against the Islamic State (Isis).
"Why does the US continue to send weapons to northern Syria even after Daesh [Arabic name for Isis] has been cleared? Why are you still here, why do these [weapons] still arrive? You must have calculations against Turkey, Iran or maybe Russia," said Erdogan.
He went on to say that Turkey does not intend to stay on in Syria unlike the US, which is still enmeshed in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US had earlier agreed, with much reluctance, that it would stop supplying weapons to Kurdish fighters with immediate effect on 28 January.
Escalation of the Turkish offensive into Manbij had raised the possibility of a confrontationist situation between Ankara's forces and American personnel. The Nato allies quickly discussed the situation to avoid an embarrassing standoff.
The US has deployed 2,000 special forces in Manbij, located about 100km east of Afrin, mostly in training roles to back the Kurdish insurgents in the fight against Islamists. Kurdish fighters are possibly the closest partners of the US in the anti-Isis battle. Since the beginning of the offensive, Turkish forces have claimed to have killed nearly 400 Kurdish extremists and Islamic State insurgents in the Syrian enclave of Afrin.