President Donald Trump's administration may have just handed Turkey's President Recep Erdogan another win.
Less than a week after Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, Turkey's foreign minister said Tuesday the U.S. has agreed to complete its previously established "roadmap" to remove all Kurdish militia fighters from the Northern Syrian town of Manbij before U.S. forces clear out.
Ankara has been waiting for this guarantee for a while, complaining since its agreement in June that Washington was dragging its feet on the deal. The U.S. has been supporting the Syria-based Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the Islamic State (IS), but the Turks view those fighting Kurds as linked to a Kurdish terrorist group that's carried out a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
Last week, Erdogan threatened to attack Manbij to "cleanse" it of the YPG, whom he called terrorists — a move the Pentagon has called "unacceptable." The U.S. withdrawal is reportedly expected to begin within weeks.
At the time of this publication, the Pentagon had not yet responded to a CNBC request for comment sent Tuesday.
Turkey also plans to cross east of the Euphrates River in Northern Syria "as soon as possible," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reportedly told local media Tuesday, without elaborating. Manbij is west of the Euphrates, but Kurdish forces control a wide swath of land on the eastern side of the river.
With the impending departure of U.S. troops from Syria, Turkey will have vast sway to push out Kurdish forces, who now say the feel they are being abandoned by their American partners. Turkish troops have amassed along the Syrian-Turkish border and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are grouping around Manbij. The Kurds have reportedly begun digging ditches and trenches in anticipation of the offensive, prompting Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to say Thursday, "they will be buried in their ditches when the time comes."