Syrian town expects US to fend off Turkey's threat of attack


MANBIJ, Syria (AP) — A rowdy mob of more than two dozen men on motorcycles streamed into the small square in the center of Manbij. They cheered and waved jerseys of their local soccer team, which had just beat the town's top club. The upset victory was sweet, and their wild chants reverberated, "My people! My people!"

It was a moment of normalcy distracting from the tensions engulfing the northwestern Syrian town, which is at the heart of a tussle among Syria's Kurds, the United States and Turkey.

Turkey has threatened to march on Manbij and wrest it from Kurdish hands after its forces won a resounding victory over Kurdish fighters earlier this month and took control of Afrin, a town 60 miles to the west.

If Turkey goes through with its threats, it will come in direct confrontation with American troops who patrol Manbij alongside their Kurdish allies

Ankara and Washington are in talks to diffuse tensions, with a new round expected Friday. But it is unclear what would appease Turkey, which says it is prepared to push all the way west to the Iraqi border to push the Kurdish YPG militia – Washington's only ally in Syria – away from its borders. It views the YPG as a threat to its national security and an extension of its own insurgents.

Manbij residents said the repeated threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have unnerved them – especially after the demoralizing defeat of the Kurds in Afrin. But many who spoke to the Associated Press during a recent visit also said they have faith the U.S. won't abandon them to face Turkish advances on their town.

Manbij, a mixed Arab and Kurdish town of nearly 400,000, was liberated from Islamic State group militants in 2016 by the YPG fighters with backing from U.S-led coalition airstrikes. Now the town is bustling with trade and life.

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