Syria army enters Manbij in new alliance with Kurds

The announcement came moments after Syria's Kurdish militia, left exposed by a US pledge to pull out its own troops, asked for the regime's help to face a threatened Turkish offensive. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 December 2018

Syria army enters Manbij in new alliance with Kurds

  • The announcement came moments after the Kurds, left exposed by a US pledge to pull out its own troops, asked for the regime's help to face a threatened Turkish offensive
  • The Syrian army spokesman said the national flag was raised in Manbij, a key city which lies about 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the Turkish border

BEIRUT: Syrian troops deployed in support of Kurdish forces in a strategic northern city on Friday, in a shift of alliances hastened by last week’s announcement of a US military withdrawal.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the move marked another key step in President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control over the country.
Buoyed by its military victories, the regime is also making progress in efforts to break its diplomatic isolation, with Thursday’s reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus.
The Syrian army announced that it had raised the flag in Manbij, a strategic city close to the Turkish border where US-led coalition forces are stationed.
A military spokesman said in a televised announcement that the army would be bent on "crushing terrorism and defeating all invaders and occupiers".
More than 300 government forces deployed in the Manbij area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based war monitor stressed however that regime troops had mostly moved into areas around the city, inside which US and French forces are still believed to be stationed.
Their deployment creates a regime buffer arching across northern Syria that fully separates the Turkish army and its proxies from the Kurds.
US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last week that he was ordering all US forces back home left the Kurds in the cold.
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been the backbone of an alliance that has spearheaded the US-backed fight against Daesh in Syria.
They are currently battling the last remnants of the extremists’ once sprawling "caliphate" in the country’s far east, near the border with Iraq.
A US withdrawal will leave them exposed to an assault by Turkey, which has thousands of proxy fighters in northern Syria and wants to crush Kurdish forces it considers terrorists.
The Kurds issued a statement welcoming the regime advance, a pragmatic shift in alliances that will dash their aspirations for autonomy but could help cut their losses after a US pullout they resent as a betrayal.
"We invite the Syrian government forces... to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, particularly in Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion," the YPG said in a statement.
After Manbij, the focus is likely to move to Raqqa, a mostly Arab city that the Kurds liberated from IS last year and that the regime has vowed to retake.
Turkey said Syrian Kurds "don’t have the right" to seek regime help but Russia, the main foreign player in Syria since it intervened to rescue Assad in 2015, hailed the latest development.
"Of course, this will help in stabilizing the situation. The enlargement of the zone under the control of government forces... is without doubt a positive trend," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov said the situation would be discussed on Saturday during a visit to Moscow by the Turkish foreign and defense ministers, to "clarify" the situation and "synchronize actions" between the two countries.
The year 2018 saw the regime, which three years earlier was clinging for dear life and controlled less than a third of the country, reclaim large swathes of territory.
The government ousted rebels from their bastions in and around the capital Damascus and flushed out other pockets to reopen key transport and trade routes.
With internal opposition in tatters and UN-backed political negotiations stillborn, Assad is now trying to shed his pariah status and looking for funds to rebuild the country.
The US pullout from Syria risks opening a highway for other regional players such as Turkey and Iran, a prospect that some of Assad’s erstwhile foes are keen to counter.
On Thursday, the United Arab Emirates -- a Turkish rival in the region -- reopened its embassy in Damascus, six years after severing ties and recognizing a now defunct opposition umbrella.
The move was the latest in a series of developments building up to the return of Assad’s Syria into the Arab fold.
Bahrain also announced it would reopen its mission in the Syrian capital while observers expect regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia to confirm that trend in the coming weeks.
The Arab League has admitted that the reintegration of Syria, which was suspended from the regional body when it intensified its repression of anti-government protests seven years ago, is on the table.


Eastern Libya forces say 16 Turkish soldiers killed in fighting

Updated 22 min 47 sec ago

Eastern Libya forces say 16 Turkish soldiers killed in fighting

BENGHAZI: Forces loyal to Libyan eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar said on Sunday they had killed 16 Turkish soldiers in recent weeks, a day after Turkey acknowledged it had lost several "martyrs" in combat in the north African country.
Khalid al-Mahjoub, a spokesman for Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA), said the Turks were killed in the port city of Misrata, in battles in Tripoli and in the town of al-Falah south of the capital.
Turkey backs Libya's weak internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and has sent Syrian soldiers along with some of its own soldiers and weapons.
Haftar's forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday acknowleged some Turkish losses in Libya's "struggle".
"We are there (in Libya) with our (Turkish) soldiers and our teams from the Syrian National Army. We continue the struggle there. We have several martyrs. In return, however, we neutralized nearly a hundred (of Haftar's) legionaries," Erdogan said.
The Syrian National Army, also known as Free Syrian Army, is a Turkey-backed Syrian rebel group fighting against pro-Damascus forces in northern Syria, where 16 Turkish soldiers have been killed so far this month.
The deployment of Turkish soldiers and sophisticated air defences has erased small gains made by the LNA with the help of Russian mercenaries, returning the frontline roughly to where it was at start of Haftar's campaign in April 2019.
Ceasefire talks between Libya's warring sides resumed on Thursday after the GNA had pulled out of negotiations following the shelling of Tripoli's port by Haftar's forces.