Who is targeting US forces in Manbij city?
Turkey - SMART
The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for an explosion that killed four United States forces and injured three others in the city of Manbij, east of Aleppo, Northern Syria. In the last four years, the IS has rarely managed to reach or target US forces in Syria.
The explosion in Manbij coincided with the US decision to withdraw its forces from Syria and the Turkish intention to launch a military operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main ally of the US in Manbij and east of the Euphrates River. The US President Donald Trump threatened to destroy Turkey's economy if it attacks the SDF or YPG.
Shaaban Aboud, a journalist and political analyst, reported that it is difficult to separate the US forces' decision to withdraw and the explosion that targeted the US forces in Manbij, especially with the presence of several parties who will benefit from the withdrawal.
Aboud is a Syrian journalist who worked for the al-Hurra channel for 10 years and the editor-in-chief of the al-Nahar Lebanese newspaper and several Syrian newspapers.
Doubts about the IS responsibility for the explosion:
Aboud doubts the ability of the IS to bomb the International Coalition, which has been fighting the IS for years, despite the IS claiming responsibility for the explosion. Aboud commented, "The IS does not have enough military power to infiltrate Manbij. The US forces and the SDF have controlled the area for a long time, making it impossible for the IS to infiltrate it."
During an interview with SMART, Issam Khoury, a journalist and political analyst, doubted the IS' ability to enter Manbij, saying that the IS-controlled areas in Deir al-Zor are far from the location of the explosion.
Via its media outlets, the IS mentioned that an IS member called Abu Yassin al-Shami was sent with an explosive belt to blow up an International Coalition patrol in the city of Manbij.
Khoury said that if the IS claims were true, the SDF security would be breached, and the SDF would not be serious about protecting the city.
Turkey’s role in the explosion:
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the explosion in Manbij might be aiming to affect the US forces' decision to withdraw. Erdogan informed Trump that Turkey is ready to uphold the security in the area.
Aboud said that Turkey had no reason to cause the explosion and welcomed the US decision, adding, "The explosion pushes US officials, including Pentagon members who were against the decision, to say that it was precipitate, allowing the US forces to stay in their locations in Syria or to cancel or delay the implementation of the withdrawal."
Khoury also said that Turkey could not be responsible for the explosion, especially after agreements between Turkey and the US regarding Northern and Northeastern Syria. The SDF was not satisfied with the agreements between Turkey and the US. Khoury said that the explosion in Manbij stirred the diplomatic relations between the two countries.
What about the SDF?
Aboud said that the SDF and YPG could not have been behind the explosion for two reasons. The first reason is that the SDF wants the US forces to remain in the area, and the second reason is that the SDF refuses to appear weak by allowing a security breach.
Khoury said that the explosion might have been conducted by parties linked to the YPG, pushing the US forces to stay in the area to prevent future military attacks against the YPG. YPG supporters consider the US forces' decision to withdraw "a stab in the back."
Accusations against Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government:
In his interview with SMART, Aboud said that there are parties who wish to accelerate the US forces' withdrawal from Syria, and that they aim to arouse the public opinion to press the US to permanently and immediately pull out from Syri, instead of a gradual withdrawal over the course of four months or more.
Aboud added, "There are regional and international powers that are interested in the US decision, such as Russia, which does not want a US presence in Syria. The Syrian government and Iran are also against the US presence in Syria."
Khoury said, "The only parties who are able to infiltrate Manbij are parties who are linked in one way or another to the Syrian government or Iranian intelligence forces, especially after the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stated clearly that his forces will remain in Syria and be stronger than ever before."
The Syrian government and Iranian militias, along with Russian forces, are stationed near the town of al-Arimah near Manbij.
Amidst the ambiguity of the US position, the rapprochement between the Syrian government and the YPG against Turkey, the entry of Syrian government forces to the Manbij perimeter, and the Russian patrols in the area, the answer to the question of who bombed Manbij remains vague, as facts indicate that many parties are involved.