US 'on track' with Manbij roadmap: commander

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. is "on track" with the Manbij roadmap agreement with Turkey, a top American commander said Thursday.

Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), spoke to reporters via teleconference, and discussed concerns about delays in the implementation of the roadmap.

Amid issues of the PKK-affiliated YPG terrorist group still having a presence in the area, Votel said the U.S. would work to ensure that they are removed.

"We are on track with where we need to be with the Manbij roadmap. Many of those times we highlighted that this is a conditions-based approach to this. But I do asses we are on track where we need to be with respect to that," he said.

The Manbij deal between Turkey and the U.S. focuses on the withdrawal of the YPG forces from the city to stabilize the region, which is in the northeast of the Aleppo province in northern Syria.

"My understanding is that most of the YPG, if not all of the YPG, is out of Manbij right now. But of course, as we continue in implementing the roadmap there are specific activities within that to ensure that is the case," said Votel.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK has taken 40,000 lives, including many women and children. The YPG is its Syrian branch.

In June, Turkish and U.S. forces began independent patrols in Manbij, however, joint patrols have yet to begin.

Turkey's Defense Ministry said Tuesday the first batch of U.S. army personnel arrived in Turkey to join training for joint patrols.

"As the Secretary [James Mattis] has recently commented on, we're engaged with our Turkish partners right now and moving to the combined joint patrols. The leader training has begun for that, and we'll move into the collective training here very shortly," Votel said.

Votel gave no timeline on when the patrols were expected to begin.

*Kasim Ileri contributed to this story

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