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Syria troops enter Kurdish town with Turkey military offensive looming

December 28, 2018 at 1:53 pm

US forces and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol the Kurdish-held town of Al-Darbasiyah in northeastern Syria bordering Turkey on 4 November 2018 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]

The Syria army said today that its fighters entered the town of Manbij after Kurdish fighters appealed to the regime for help in the face of the imminent threat of attack from Turkey.

“We invite the Syrian government forces … to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion,” a statement from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) said.

Manbij, on Syria’s northern border, was seized by the YPG from Daesh in 2016 and has since become the frontline between the Kurds and Turkey.

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Kurdish fighters still based there were part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance battling Daesh. The town has been governed for the last two years by the Manbij Military Council, which is allied to the SDF.

The fate of the fighting group, viewed by Ankara as belonging to a terrorist organisation, became a major source of tension following the sudden withdrawal of US troops last week. President Trump last week surprised everyone, including members his own cabinet, by announcing that all remaining US troops were coming home and that Daesh had been defeated.

The announcement followed a conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is believed to have given assurance to Trump that Ankara, which makes no distinction between the YPG and Daesh, would be able to defeat both groups. Erdogan’s assurance is thought to have been a major factor in Trump’s decision to leave Syria, and an implicit nod to Turkey to launch its military offensive.

Abandoned by the US, the Kurds turned to France for protection, causing a rift between Paris and Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned France against remaining in Syria to protect YPG, which has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

“If they [France] are going to contribute to Syria’s future fine. But if they are staying with the aim of protecting the YPG, this won’t benefit them or the YPG,” Cavusoglu said.

Syria responded to the Kurdish call for support by sending its troops who are reported to have erected the national flag over administrative buildings – the first time it has flown in the northern town for more than six years.

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The decision to turn to Damascus for protection is seen as the first major concession by the Kurds to the Bashar Al-Assad regime since the YPG seized control of vast swathes of north and east Syria and created an area of self-rule.

According to the Guardian, the Syrian army said in a statement it would guarantee “full security for all Syrian citizens and others present in the area”.