Syrian troops mass at edge of Kurdish town threatened by Turkey
Syria’s military has arrived at the frontlines of the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, as Kurdish fighters appealed to the Syrian government for help in the face of the imminent threat of attack by Turkey.
It was not immediately clear whether US personnel, who have been patrolling Manbij and the tense frontline between it and adjacent towns where Turkey-backed fighters are based, were still present. The US-led coalition against Isis did not respond to a request for comment.
“We invite the Syrian government forces … to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion,” a statement from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) said.
The Syrian army had already mobilised before the Kurdish invitation, saying on Friday morning that units had entered the town on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.
The volte-face by the Kurds, six years after they broke from Damascus, comes after President Donald Trump’s surprise decision earlier this month to withdraw the 2,000 US troops stationed in Kurdish-held Syria, known locally as Rojava, which acted as a buffer between Turkey and Syria’s Kurds.
Although Kurdish forces have proven to be the US’s most important ground partner in the fight against Islamic State, Ankara views them as a terrorist threat and extension of the PKK Kurdish separatist movement within its own borders.
A monitor and several local sources said troops had massed on the edges of the town and that the Syrian government flag had been raised above official buildings for the first time in years.
The Syrian army said in a statement it would guarantee “full security for all Syrian citizens and others present in the area”.
The development was praised as “positive” by Russia, Assad’s major ally, which seeks to restore his control over the entire country.
Manbij, on Syria’s northern border, was seized by the YPG from Isis in 2016 and has since become the frontline between the Kurds and Turkey.
The US agreed to facilitate the removal of YPG fighters from the town as part of efforts to appease Turkey, its Nato ally, but perceived stalling on the matter infuriated Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who in recent months has repeatedly said his forces will deal with threats to Turkey’s safety themselves.
The YPG says its fighters recently withdrew from Manbij to fight the remnants of Isis in the east of the country.