Syrian government forces enter Kurdish-held town of Manbij to stop Turkish attacks
Syria’s military says it has entered the Kurdish-held town of Manbij and raised the national flag there, which Kurdish representatives say is to ward off a threatened Turkish offensive.
- US-backed Kurdish forces hold the northern Syrian town of Manbij, under Turkish threat
- The Kurds have invited Syrian government forces to defend the town
- Sources say that US troops have not left the area, while Syrian forces have just arrived
Turkey and its allied fighters, which views the Kurdish militia as a terrorist group, has been threatening a military operation against Manbij in recent days.
The Kurds are an ethnic group indigenous to the lands that now make up south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and south-western Armenia, who have long fought for an independent state known as Kurdistan.
Many of the countries that house the Kurds have violently opposed Kurdish self-determination, and Ankara has stepped up attacks on Kurdish-held posts in northern Syria throughout 2018.
Kurdish official Ilham Ahmed said the US troops who patrol the town and the tense front line with Turkey-backed fighters have not withdrawn from Manbij, while Syrian troops have only arrived at the front lines.
“The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive,” Ms Ahmed said.
“If the Turks’ excuse is the [Kurdish militia], they will leave their posts to the government.”
A resident of Manbij, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there was no sign of government troops.
Pro-state Syrian TV aired footage from inside Manbij of commercial streets on a rainy day, but did not show any troops.
It aired images of a military convoy driving late at night, reportedly to Manbij.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops have deployed around Manbij on the front line with the Turkey-backed fighters to the west.
‘We are aiming to wipe out all terrorist organisations’
Turkey will have nothing left to do in the Syrian town of Manbij once “terrorist organisations” leave the area, President Tayyip Erdogan said.
Anakara has threatened an assault on Manbij to drive out the Kurdish YPG militia, which it regards as a terrorist group.
Mr Erdogan said that Turkey was not in a hurry to carry out the operation.
“In the current situation, we are still supporting the integrity of Syrian soil. These areas belong to Syria,” he said.
“Once the terrorist organisations leave the area, we will have nothing left to do there.
“It’s not just about Manbij, we are aiming to wipe out all terrorist organisations in the region. Our main target is that the YPG takes the necessary lesson here.”
Another complex front opens in the Syrian civil war
The Kurds have traditionally relied on US military support to maintain stability. (The Military Council of Manbij City via AP)
While US forces are set to leave Syria after President Donald Trump surprised the world and his Cabinet by making the decision to leave Syria for good — saying the US “won against ISIS” — it is unclear who will fill the power vacuum left by the world’s pre-eminent military superpower.
The announcement by the Syrian military was quickly welcomed by the Kremlin, whose spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it a “positive step” that could help stabilise the situation.
The Syrian Kurdish group, which had partnered with the US since 2014 to fight the Islamic State group, have sought new allies, reaching out to the government and the Russians to protect their Kurdish-administered areas in north Syria.
The Syrian government has said it welcomed the Kurdish group returning under its authority.
But government officials have stated they will not consider a Kurdish autonomous area.
Syria’s entry into Manbij comes a day before Moscow is to host top Turkish officials to discuss the crisis in Syria after the US announced its withdrawal.
A timetable for the withdrawal has not yet been made public.