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Kurdish troops begin withdrawal from Syria’s Manbij

Kurdish troops begin withdrawal from Syria’s Manbij
US-backed Kurdish militia has begun to withdraw from Manbij in northern Syria, inviting the Syrian army to move in as Turkey masses troops on the border. Kurdish presence in the city was a major irritant for Turkey.

About 30 vehicles and 400 members of the Kurdish YPG militia have left Manbij since January 1, as part of an agreement with Damascus, the Syrian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. The Kurdish fighters are pulling back across the Euphrates river, the Syrian government said.

Video of the withdrawal was posted on the Syrian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page.

The Kurds have been the main element of the US-backed ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’, a proxy army operating in northeastern Syria against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). The SDF has previously refused to restore the territories liberated from IS to Syrian government rule. That changed, however, after US President Donald Trump announced last month that US forces will be leaving Syria.

Last week, the Syrian army announced it had entered Manbij and raised the Syrian flag, after striking a deal with the YPG. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the announcement a “psyop” and denied that the Kurds were withdrawing. If the Kurds – which Ankara considers terrorists – were to actually leave the area, there would be “no job left” there for the Turkish military, Erdogan said.

Also on rt.com Erdogan: Reports of Damascus taking control of Manbij, Kurdish-held town bordering Turkey is ‘psyop’

Turkey has been massing troops and equipment on its border with Syria for the past several weeks. Erdogan has been threatening a new military action in northern Syria, demanding the Kurdish withdrawal east of the Euphrates once again.

Following the Kurds’ liberation of Manbij from IS in August 2016, Turkey invaded Syria in a military operation dubbed ‘Euphrates Shield’, capturing a swath of territory in the north. Mediation by Russia and the US prevented a direct conflict between the Turkish-backed militias and Kurds in Manbij at the time, but Ankara has continued to insist on a Kurdish withdrawal beyond the Euphrates ever since.

It is unclear whether the proof of a Kurdish pullout will deter Turkey from launching another military operation in Syria, but the government in Damascus has repeatedly said it views Turkish troops as invaders and will fight them if necessary.

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