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Παρασκευή, Φεβρουαρίου 09, 2018

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A correspondent and a photographer of The New York Times, traveling with American generals in northern Syria, visited a city where armed conflict is now possible between the United States and Turkey.

MANBIJ, Syria — Two senior American generals came to the front line outside the Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday flying outsized American flags on their vehicles, in case pro-Turkish forces just the other side of the no man’s land, 20 yards away, did not realize who they were.

We’re very proud of our positions here, and we want to make sure everybody knows it,” said Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, the Special Operations commander for the American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.
If the message to Turkey was not clear already, the overall coalition commander accompanying General Jarrard, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, elaborated. “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.”
The trip was the first by such senior United States military officers to the front in northern Syria since Turkey’s president threatened to attack the city of Manbij, calling it a bastion of terrorists and demanding that American forces leave.
But the Americans have refused, creating the potential for an unprecedented armed conflict between two NATO allies, the United States and Turkey — the latest twist on the seven-year-old war in Syria.
This part of Syria’s north was once overrun by Islamic State militants. The United States and its allies, Syrian Kurdish fighters, collaborated more than a year ago to evict them.

Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, left, talked to an American Special Forces soldier at the Manbij outpost.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times
But in the effort, the United States angered Turkey, which has long regarded the Kurds as enemies. Now the Turks are turning their guns on the Kurds, setting up a possible fight with the Americans.
General Funk had an automatic pistol slung across his vest. His three uniform stars would have been easily visible with binoculars to the Syrian militias aligned with Turkey on the other side of the front line, as he stood on a sandbagged roof. He was surrounded by Special Forces soldiers, and Arab and Kurdish fighters from the Manbij Military Council, the government authority in the region.
The two generals arrived at the border post in unarmored cars, in an entourage that included several mine-resistant armored personnel carriers, as well as Land Cruisers for Special Forces soldiers, with antennas, spare tires and jerrycans on their roofs.
Manbij is the farthest west that the Americans, aligned with the Syrian Democratic Forces insurgent group in the fight against the Islamic State, are stationed.

Showing off the Stars and Stripes in this city is not at all extraordinary. American military vehicles usually fly flags on what they call de-escalation patrols through the city and province of Manbij. The patrols are so frequent that children have learned to flash the thumb-and-little finger wiggle gesture popularized by American soldiers.
Women in full chadors smile and wave at their convoys, and American soldiers even visit the crowded bazaar in unarmored cars, disembarking on foot with only sidearms, according to locals — unusual for any place at risk of an Islamic State attack. “I would feel very comfortable anywhere in northeastern Syria,” General Jarrard said.
Similarly the relationship between the Americans and the Manbij Military Council is comfortable and cordial, and the Americans have praised its efforts to restore a stable government. Standing on the front-line rooftop, General Funk addressed the military council’s commander, Muhammed Abu Adel: “The lasting defeat of ISIS is the most important mission for this group,” he told Commander Adel, a Kurd, although the majority of his fighters are local Arabs. “It’s in your hands now and you’re doing a good job. One team, one fight.”
Commander Adel thanked him, and said he hoped American air power would continue to assist his forces. The general did not respond directly.

An American Special Forces convoy outside Manbij, where American forces are supporting Syrian Kurdish fighters. CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times
The American support for Manbij has particularly alarmed Turkey. It is waging a military campaign to take the Kurdish-held city of Afrin, 80 miles west, while pursuing an unusually outspoken public relations campaign to threaten Manbij and make the Americans depart, so that Syrian militias aligned with Turkish forces can take it from America’s Kurdish-led allies.
On Tuesday, once again, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey criticized the American support of Manbij. “They tell us, ‘Don’t come to Manbij.’ We will come to Manbij to hand over these territories to their rightful owners,” Mr. Erdogan said in a speech to his party. The Turkish deputy prime minister went so far as to suggest American troops in Manbij are wearing uniforms of the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces, or Y.P.G., and said they could become targets.
The Y.P.G. dominates Kurdish areas of northern Syria and is the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and Daesh.
But in Manbij, both the Americans and the Kurds insist, the defending force is the Manbij Military Council, an ally of the Syrian Democratic Forces, but independent and composed mostly of Arab fighters.
The Turks depict the Y.P.G. as a version of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or P.K.K., a separatist group regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. Η ΣΥΝΕΧΕΙΑ ΣΤΟ ΕΔΩ

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