BEIRUT — The U.S. envoy for Syria visited the northern town of Manbij on Monday, where U.S. and Turkish troops could begin conducting joint patrols in the coming days, a Kurdish official said.
Ebrahim Ebrahim said James Jeffrey met with members of the Manbij Military Council and briefed them on his recent visit to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He gave no further details.
Furat FM, a radio station in northern Syria, said Jeffrey would meet with officials from the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led group that drove Islamic State militants out of much of northeastern Syria.
The White House signaled a fundamental shift in the military mission for troops in Syria that would focus on Iran rather than ISIS.
Jeffrey’s visit to Manbij came a day after Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters that the training of the Turkish and U.S. soldiers is expected to last “several more days” before they transition to combined patrols.
The Manbij patrols are part of a roadmap that Ankara and Washington agreed on in June to defuse tensions amid Turkish demands for the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Kurdish militia that dominates the SDF and drove IS out of Manbij in 2016. Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group because of its links to the Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey. Turkey-backed opposition fighters have threatened to storm Manbij.
In July, the Manbij Military Council, which administers the town, said the YPG units once stationed there had completed their withdrawal. Turkey's Foreign Ministry called reports of the alleged withdrawal "exaggerated" and said they didn't "reflect the truth."
Also Monday, Russian military Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said that 2,520 refugees and 139 internally displaced people have returned home during the past week following Syrian President Bashar Assad's announcement of amnesty for army deserters.
Mizintsev hailed the amnesty as a "turning point in rebuilding peaceful life in Syria and an additional incentive for the refugees to return home."
On Oct. 9, Assad granted general amnesty to army deserters both within Syria and outside the country. Deserters in Syria have four months to return home, while those abroad have six months.