BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian army deployed forces near Manbij in northern Syria on Friday, a war monitor and a U.S. official said, after the Kurdish YPG militia urged Damascus to protect the town, where U.S. forces operate, from the threat of a Turkish offensive.
A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel rides on a truck with a mounted weapon at Manbij countryside, Syria December 28, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Manbij, which U.S.-backed forces captured from Islamic State in 2016, has emerged as a focal point of new tensions after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces whose presence has effectively deterred Turkey.
After a Syrian army announcement declaring government troops had entered Manbij, Turkey-backed Syrian rebels stationed in nearby territory said they had begun moving together with Turkish forces toward the town in readiness for “the start of military operations to liberate” it.
A witness said convoys of Turkey-backed insurgents, with armored vehicles and machine guns, were moving toward the frontline with the town.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the Syrian government forces had entered a strip of territory at the edge of Manbij, not inside the town itself, creating a barrier with Turkey-backed fighters nearby.
Manbij, where U.S. troops have a military base, is held by a local militia allied to the YPG which Turkey deems a security threat.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that U.S. troops had not changed their positions in Manbij and…
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