A tense calm prevails in Syria's northern town of Manbij as efforts to avert a confrontation between Turkish-backed forces and US-backed forces take shape.

A road sign in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab that shows the direction to Manbij, Syria. March 1, 2017
A road sign in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab that shows the direction to Manbij, Syria. March 1, 2017

Turkish, Russian and US army chiefs were meeting in the southern Turkish province of Antalya on Tuesday amid escalating tension in and around the northern Syrian town of Manbij.

Ongoing discussions between Turkey's Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, his US counterpart Joseph Dunford and Russia's Valery Gerasimov had earlier focused on the security challenges in Syria and Iraq, as well as the wider region, a statement by the Turkish Army said.

The meeting comes ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's planned visit to Moscow, expected to begin on Thursday.

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition forces were set to advance towards the YPG-controlled Manbij after they liberated the neighbouring town of al Bab from Daesh.

But days ago, as part of a deal with Russia, the US-backed YPG surrendered a number of villages west of Manbij to Bashar al Assad's regime forces.

The regime now forms a buffer between the Turkish-backed front and YPG-controlled territories.

Turkey on Monday said coordination was needed for the next phase of its operation to secure its border with Syria and free northern Syria of terror groups.

"There is no point in starting an operation without coordinating it with Russia and the United States," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.

"There wouldn't be much of a result, and things could get more complicated. Therefore talks are underway on a technical and military level," he added.

TRT World correspondent Abubakr al Shamahi has been following the developments in northern Syria from Gaziantep, on Turkey's border with Syria.

Contested territory

Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016 to secure its border with Syria and clear northern Syria of groups that could threaten its territory.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had already taken Manbij from Daesh at that time. The SDF is dominated by the YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK.

Turkey had previously warned the YPG, which has seized swathes of land in northeastern Syria, not to move west of the Euphrates River towards Manbij.

Although the PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the US, the US considers the group's Syrian branch to be an ally in the fight against Daesh.

Turkey, on the other hand, treats the YPG and Daesh as one and the same, and has declared its intention to clear both groups from its border with Syria.

The US Pentagon announced on Monday that it deployed a small, but unspecified number of forces in and around Manbij last week to be a "visible sign of deterrence and reassurance."

"This is a new effort, this is the first time we've had to do something like this, which is to ensure that we are out there as a visible symbol that the enemy is cleared out of Manbij," Captain Jeff Davis said.

"There is not a need for others to advance on it in attempts to liberate it," he added, in apparent reference to Turkish plans to move on the town.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies