Search and Hit Enter

What is Manbij’s strategic importance for the involved players?

Located in the middle of the northern belt of Syria, Manbij has been a target for most of the players in Syria’s conflict due to the supply lines that run through it. It has frequently changed hands during the course of the war: After being seized by anti-Assad rebels in 2012, the city was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) group in 2014, who then, in turn, lost it to the SDF three years ago.

A local economic hub, Manbij is situated adjacent to the M4 highway, a major commercial route that connects the western port city of Latakia to Aleppo, Raqqa and oil-rich Deir Az Zor in the east.

For al-Assad, controlling the highway could help rebuild the country’s war-ravaged economy.

“The Syrian government has been eyeing Manbij for years,” said Century Foundation fellow Aron Lund said. “Today, they saw the US troop withdrawal and Russian support as an opportunity to do so.”

For Ankara, on the other hand, gaining a foothold in the area would mean preventing the SDF from moving back and forth along the Euphrates, while also isolating SDF-controlled Hassakeh and Qamishli from government-controlled Aleppo.

Manbij is also significant for Turkey’s plan to carve out a so-called “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish fighters where some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently residing on its soil can be returned to.

On Monday, Erdogan played down suggestions that expanding the operation into Manbij would cause a point of conflict with Russia, citing Moscow’s “positive approach”.

Marwan Kabalan, director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, said Moscow could reach an “understanding” with Ankara that would entail an SDF withdrawal – leaving effective control in Russian hands.

For Ankara, on the other hand, gaining a foothold in the area would mean preventing the SDF from moving back and forth along the Euphrates, while also isolating SDF-controlled Hassakeh and Qamishli from government-controlled Aleppo.

Manbij is also significant for Turkey’s plan to carve out a so-called “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish fighters where some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently residing on its soil can be returned to.

On Monday, Erdogan played down suggestions that expanding the operation into Manbij would cause a point of conflict with Russia, citing Moscow’s “positive approach”.

Marwan Kabalan, director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, said Moscow could reach an “understanding” with Ankara that would entail an SDF withdrawal – leaving effective control in Russian hands.

According to locals, Manbij is home to an estimated 700,000 people, including thousands of internally displaced people.

Despite being under SDF control, at least 80 percent of the city’s inhabitants are ethnically Arab, with its “social fabric” consisting of 29 tribes, said Hassan al-Hussein, a member of the Manbij Tribes council, a network of tribal representatives.