SYRIA (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Russian-backed Syrian forces swiftly seized the chance of a surprise US withdrawal from Syria on Monday, spreading deep into Kurdish-controlled territory south of the Turkish border, less than 24 hours after Washington announced it was withdrawing troops from the region.
The Kurds, Washington’s former allies, said they had called on government forces as an emergency measure to help counter the Turkish offensive, which began last week with a green light from US President Donald Trump, which the Kurds called treason.
The deployment of Syrian troops on Monday marks a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his main ally Russia, who have taken control of large swathes of the country outside their control.
Syrian state media reported that “units of the Syrian Arab Army enter the city of Manbij in the northern countryside of Aleppo” and had reported that the army had already entered the town of Tal Tamr in the northeast of the country on a strategic highway linking east and west at a depth of 30 km from the border with Turkey.
State television later showed footage of residents welcoming Syrian troops in the town of Ain Issa, another area of the highway hundreds of kilometers away.
Ain Issa controls the northern outskirts of Raqqa, the former capital of the Islamic State’s caliphate, which Kurdish fighters seized from the group two years ago in one of the biggest victories of a US-led campaign.
Most of the highway is on the southern end of the area that Turkey wants as a “safe zone” inside Syria. Turkey said it had taken control of part of the highway. An official from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said clashes were continuing.
– US strategy is falling apart –
The deployment of Syrian troops comes as the US strategy over the past five years in Syria has plummeted overnight. Washington on Sunday suddenly announced the withdrawal of its remaining 1,000 troops, who have fought alongside the Kurds against ISIS since 2014.
A US official said on Monday a diplomatic team was working to help stabilize the territory captured from ISIS. The official said US forces were still on the ground but the initial stages of the withdrawal had begun.
Two other US officials told Reuters the withdrawal of most US troops would be completed within days.
The announcement of the US withdrawal on Sunday came a week after Trump said he would move a limited number of troops away from the border region, allowing Turkey to attack the Kurds in what Kurdish officials called a “back stab”.
Thousands of fighters from a Kurdish-led force have been fighting the Islamic State in partnership with the United States as part of a strategy launched by the administration of former President Barack Obama and completed by his successor Trump.
Trump says he wants to get the United States out of “endless” wars in the Middle East, pursuant to his vision that the United States should not be the world’s policeman. But he announced the withdrawal from Syria as he sent thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia.
Changing his policies in Syria enabled Turkey to launch a cross-border attack last week that displaced thousands of civilians and prompted Kurds to seek new friends.
“After the international coalition and the Americans abandoned the protection of the border or the region from Turkish threats and gave the green light to the Turkish attack, we were forced to look for another option, which is discussion with Damascus and Moscow to find a way out and confront these Turkish attacks and the mercenary terrorists because our people are facing,” said senior Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurd.
“This is a preliminary military agreement and the political aspects have not been discussed and this will be discussed in the later stages.”
Senior Kurdish politician Aldar Khalil said the “emergency measure”, taken under the supervision of Russia, the government’s main ally, was aimed at countering cross-border Turkish attacks.
“The priority now is to keep the border security from the Turkish threat. We are continuing to reach a common formula in the future with the Government of Damascus.”
This development is the biggest change in years on the battlefield in the world’s deadliest war, and there is a possible new front between Russia’s forces, Turkey and their Syrian allies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, along with Assad’s ally Iran, have become the undisputed foreign mediators in Syria.
Russia and Turkey have reached a shaky truce in northwestern Syria, the only other region in the country that is not controlled by Assad. The two sides predicted that they could avoid conflict in the region, while expanding the area where they face to extend the width of the country.
Ankara’s stated objective is to establish a “safe area” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million refugees who fled the Syrian war and are hosted by Turkey on its territory.
Erdogan said on Monday that his country would not back down from the process “no matter what is said”, stressing that it would continue until “complete victory”.
“We are determined to continue the process until the end of the process,” Erdogan said in a speech in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. We will certainly complete the task we have begun. ”
The Turkish Defense Ministry said 560 militants had been “neutralized” since the operation began. Erdogan had earlier announced the killing of 500 militants and the surrender of 26 and wounded 24 others so far.
Erdogan said on Sunday the operation would extend from Kobane in the west to Hasaka in the east and 30 km deep inside Syrian territory.
Asked about a possible confrontation with Russia, Erdogan said: “There are a lot of rumors at the moment. But there seem to be problems with Russia’s positive approach in Kobane. ” Kobani, on the Turkish border, is one of the first Kurdish-controlled cities and there have been reports of possible government troops.
The Kremlin spokesman rejected the possibility of clashes between Russia and Turkish forces, saying: “We do not even want to think about this scenario.”
The Turkish offensive has sparked widespread criticism and anxiety that Islamic State fighters in Syria could be allowed to flee jails held in the Kurdish-controlled area to regroup.
The attack raised Western fears that the SDF, which controls large swathes of northern Syria previously held by ISIS, could not keep thousands of militant fighters and tens of thousands of family members in camps it is holding in the area.
The Kurdish-controlled administration said 785 members of the group had fled a camp in Ain Issa. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing sources inside the camp, said about 100 people had fled.
Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday, without giving evidence, that the Kurds might deliberately release Islamic State prisoners to get US troops back.
“The Kurds may release some to get us to intervene,” Trump said. It is very easy for Turkey or the European countries from which many come from to be detained again, but they should move quickly. ”
European countries have threatened sanctions against Turkey but agreed at a meeting on Monday not to ban them.
“The member states are committed to taking strong national positions on their policies on arms exports to Turkey,” EU foreign ministers said after a meeting in Luxembourg.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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