On Northern Syria Front Line, U.S. and Turkey Head Into Tense Face-off

“I think our main concern is that anything that disrupts everybody’s focus on ISIS and eliminating the complete physical caliphate — and we’re close, we’re very close — something people couldn’t have imagined a year ago — anything that disrupts us or takes our eye off that prize, is not good,” General Jarrard said.

General Funk said the Americans prefer to “maintain focus on the enemy in front of you and mow him down — that’s much easier than having to look in multiple directions.”

In Manbij, initial alarm at the Turkish threats has dissipated as the Turkish campaign against Afrin, which the Turks had vowed to overrun in a few days, has dragged into a third week.

On Northern Syria Front Line, U.S. and Turkey Head Into Tense Face-off
On Northern Syria Front Line, U.S. and Turkey Head Into Tense Face-off

The local civil government is modeled on principles of the Kurdish separatist leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey: enforced equality for women in civil and military life, moderate socialism, and radical environmentalism.

The Turks’ view is that the Kurds have imposed a system of governance in Manbij at odds with the area’s conservative, traditional society. The American military, however, says that the Kurds and their allies have managed to bring stability. “There are a lot of people that do equate them with the P.K.K., but I have not seen any indication of that in my dealings with them throughout our relationship,” General Jarrard said.

There is little doubt that the bulk of Manbij soldiers are Arabs, but their key leaders are Kurdish, with backgrounds in the Y.P.G. The Manbij Military Council leader, Muhammed Abu Adel, is Kurdish, as is Mr. Derwish, the council’s influential spokesman, who has a prominent photograph of Abdullah Ocalan on the wall of his office.

“What’s strange to me is that Turkey, as a member of NATO, is making this war against us under the name of jihad, but we are only democrats,” Mr. Derwish said. “In our society, women are free, we have equality and democracy. And they want to destroy us.”

General Funk, a veteran of Iraq and other deployments, said Syria had been “delightful” by comparison. “People are trying to get back to their normal way of living,” he said. “As long as people keep working together on that local governance and local control, I see hope.”

Follow Rod Nordland on Twitter: @rodnordland

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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