Tall Tamr (Syria) (AFP) – The Syrian regime deployed troops near the Turkish border and entered a key city Monday to contain Ankara’s deadly offensive against the Kurds, stepping in for US forces due to begin a controversial withdrawal.
The army has kept a presence in Kurdish-controlled Qamishli and Hasakeh in Syria’s northeast since the 2011 outbreak of the country’s war, and deployed a limited number of troops around the strategic city of Manbij last year at the request of Kurdish forces.
Their new deployment, notably inside Manbij, marks the regime’s return to a region from which Damascus started to withdraw in 2012 and a significant gain for President Bashar al-Assad, who has vowed to reclaim all of Syrian territory.
Outgunned and without US protection, the autonomous Kurds had few other options to stop the rapid advance of Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies.
Turkey wants to create a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) buffer zone along its border to keep Kurdish forces at bay and also to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts.
The United States and its partners, who spent years fighting alongside the Kurds against the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria, have condemned the Turkish invasion, but their threats of sanctions have failed to stop it.
“Big sanctions on Turkey coming!” US President Donald Trump said Monday.
Washington says it is planning to pull out 1,000 troops — almost the entire ground force — from Syria’s north, in a move welcomed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “a positive approach”.
A US official told AFP that Washington was “executing the order” to withdraw, but did not provide additional details.
Without US protection, France said it may also be forced to pull its troops from the coalition fighting IS in Syria.
The chaos in areas targeted in the six-day-old Turkish assault has already led to the escape of around 800 foreign women and children linked to IS from a Kurdish-run camp, according to Kurdish authorities.
The Kurds had repeatedly warned of that exact scenario when Western countries refused to repatriate their IS-linked nationals and when Trump made it clear he wanted to end the US military presence.