Syria rushes its troops to back Kurds
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. - AP
Beirut - Washington's Kurdish former allies said they invited in the government troops as an emergency step to help fend off an assault by Turkey.
Syrian forces took rapid advantage of an abrupt US retreat from Syria on Monday, deploying deep inside Kurdish-held territory south of the Turkish frontier less than 24 hours after Washington announced a full withdrawal.
Washington's Kurdish former allies said they invited in the government troops as an emergency step to help fend off an assault by Turkey, launched last week after President Donald Trump moved his troops aside in what the Kurds call a betrayal.
Washington's decision to abandon a policy it had pursued for five years gives Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a free hand to shape the battlefield of the world's deadliest ongoing war.
The Syrian army deployment is also a victory for President Bashar Al Assad, giving him a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of the country that had been beyond his grasp.
It will now face Turkish armed forces along a new front line hundreds of miles long.
Syrian state media reported the army entered Manbij, a town near the Turkish border in northeast Syria that had been controlled by a militia allied to US-backed Kurdish forces. Earlier it pushed into Tel Tamer, a town on the strategically important M4 highway that runs east-west around 30km south of the frontier with Turkey.
State television later showed residents welcoming Syrian forces into the town of Ain Issa, which lies on another part of the highway, hundreds of miles away.
Ain Issa commands the northern approaches to Raqqa, former capital of the Daesh "caliphate", which Kurdish fighters recaptured from the militants two years ago in one of the biggest victories of a US-led campaign.
Much of the M4 skirts the southern fringe of territory where Turkey aims to set up a "safe zone" inside Syria.
Turkey said it had seized part of the highway. An official of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said clashes were ongoing.