Residents of Manbij, north Syria, fear Turkish threats

MANBIJ, Syria (North Press) – After four years of relative stability since the expulsion of Islamic State (ISIS) militants from it, residents of the city of Manbij in northern Syria are still afraid of possible Turkish attacks against the city after the Turkish invasion of the cities of Afrin, Tel Abyad (Gre Spi), and Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain).

These fears arose after Turkish threats were renewed with the bombing of points belonging to the Manbij Military Council from their bases in the Euphrates Shield areas (the regions of Azaz, Jarablus, and Bab in the northern countryside of Aleppo that were taken over by Turkey and its Syrian opposition armed groups between 2016-2017) this month.  

“The fears of the city’s residents are concentrated in the possibility of any international agreement that would allow Turkey to occupy the city, as happened previously in several areas of north and east Syria,” Abdullah al-Alou, a resident of Manbij, told North Press.

“The agreements with international powers seem to give ‘legitimacy’ to Turkish military operations, while the truth is that living with these armed groups is like living in a jungle where the strong in their areas of control eat the weak,” he added.

Commercial location  

Ali al-Saghir, the owner of a grocery in Manbij, believes that Turkey has a desire to occupy Manbij, as it is one of the largest cities in northern Syria and a transportation link between the areas east and west of the Euphrates, in addition to its distinguished commercial location. 

“The commercial movement in the city was affected by Turkish threats, which negatively affected our business and trade, and caused a state of stagnation in most of the marketplaces,” al-Saghir added.

Little London

Shervan Darwish, the official spokesperson for the Manbij Military Council, told North Press that Turkey refused to “categorically” carry out any military campaign to liberate Manbij from ISIS, but its attitudes were changed after meetings under the supervision of the Global Coalition.

“Liberating Manbij from ISIS was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the city was the focal point between ISIS members and its sleeper cells, through which ISIS used to send its members to Turkey, and then to European countries to carry out terrorist acts,” Darwish said. 

“ISIS used to bring its members from abroad through Turkey to Manbij and then to the rest of the Syrian cities and Iraq, as Manbij was called ‘Little London’ due to the large number of foreign immigrants in it,” Darwish added. 

Regarding the security situation in the region after the expulsion of ISIS, Darwish pointed out that they faced many challenges, including maintaining stability and security situation in the region. ISIS sleeper cells were active, and the danger of Turkish threats is still ongoing, threatening to spread chaos and instability. 

Repeated targeting and bombing

Darwish said security issues such as terrorist explosions and targeting commanders of the Military Council and heads of the Civil Administration are still ongoing, but states that the number of such incidents has decreased. 

He stated that Turkish threats to invade Manbij increased after the agreement with both the Syrian government and Russian military on October 14, 2019.

Turkish threats to invade Manbij increased five months after the expulsion of ISIS, and “it tried to attack the city from the Arima side, west of Manbij, but the attack failed. While Syrian government forces, with Russian support, started to advance to the southern outskirts of Manbij at al-Khafsa district, they did not succeed,” Darwish said. 

On June 2016, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a military campaign with the Global Coalition to expel ISIS from Manbij. After fierce battles lasting nearly two and a half months, the liberation of Manbij was announced on August 15 of the same year.