Syrian troops enter Manbij in new alliance with Kurd forces

Syrian troops enter Manbij in new alliance with Kurd forces

Beirut - The move marked another key step in President Bashar Al Assad's Russian-backed drive to reassert control over the country.



By AFP

Published: Fri 28 Dec 2018, 9:09 PM

Last updated: Fri 28 Dec 2018, 11:17 PM

Syrian troops deployed in support of Kurdish forces around a strategic northern city on Friday, in a shift of alliances hastened by last week's announcement of a US military withdrawal.
Nearly eight years into Syria's deadly conflict, the move marked another key step in President Bashar Al Assad's Russian-backed drive to reassert control over the country.
The Syrian army announced that it had raised the flag in Manbij, a strategic city close to the Turkish border where Kurdis forces have been deployed since 2016 and where US-led coalition forces are also stationed.
A military spokesman said in a televised announcement that the army would be bent on "crushing terrorism and defeating all invaders and occupiers".
More than 300 government forces deployed in the Manbij area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based war monitor stressed however that regime troops had mostly moved into areas around the city, inside which US and French forces are still believed to be stationed.
Nura Al Hamed, deputy head of the Manbij local authority, said that the regime deployment was the result of Russian-sponsored negotiations.
"The regime forces will not enter the city of Manbij itself but will deploy on the demarcation line" with Turkish-backed Syrian groups, she said.
Hamed said that US and French coalition forces remained at their positions and continued to conduct patrols.
Their deployment creates a regime buffer arching across northern Syria that fully separates the Turkish army and its proxies from the Kurds.
US President Donald Trump's shock announcement last week that he was ordering all US forces back home left the Kurds in the cold.
The People's Protection Units (YPG) have been the backbone of an alliance that has spearheaded the US-backed fight against the Daesh group in Syria.
They are currently battling the last remnants of the militants in the country's far east, near the border with Iraq. A US withdrawal will leave them exposed to an assault by Turkey, which has thousands of proxy fighters in northern Syria and wants to crush Kurdish forces it considers terrorists.
The Kurds issued a statement welcoming the regime advance, a pragmatic shift in alliances that will dash their aspirations for autonomy but could help cut their losses after a US pullout they resent as a betrayal.
"We invite the Syrian government forces... to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, particularly in Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion," the YPG said in a statement.
After Manbij, the focus is likely to move to Raqqa, a city that the Kurds liberated from Daesh last year and that the regime has vowed to retake.


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