Russian and Assad rergime flags on military vehicles outside Manbij, Syria, October 15, 2019 (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)
The Assad regime claims that, after a deal with Kurdish forces, it has reoccupied the city of Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province.
Russia, which backs the regime, is also making the assertion.
If true, the entry of regime forces is a significant setback to Turkey, which has sought control of the city for months.
Syrian State news agency SANA declared on Tuesday that troops had entered the center of Manbij and raised the regime flag. Video showed some people gathered in the main square waving flags.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, “The Syrian Government army has full control over the city of Manbij and nearby settlements.”
The Ministry said Russian forces are patrolling border areas along the “line of contact” between regime units and Turkish forces, alongside Syrian rebels.
The Turkish-rebel offensive was launched last Wednesday to occupy a 480-km (270-mile) long and 30-km (19-mile) deep area along the Turkish-Syrian border, extending east across the Euphrates River to Iraq. The zone crosses the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire.
Rewriting Borders Inside Syria
Manbij is the westernmost point of Kurdish-controlled territory, after Turkey and the rebels overran the Kurdish canton of Afrin in spring 2018.
In August 2016, the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces took Manbij from the Islamic State.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged, after the takeover of Afrin, that Manbij — which has a mainly-Arab population — would also be taken.
Both the US and Russia opposed a takeover. Ankara and Washington announced a tentative but shaky agreement to oversee security in and near Manbij, while Moscow put its troops outside the city.
On October 4, during a phone call with Erdoğan, Donald Trump impulsively accepted the Turkish cross-border operations. The Pentagon and State Department pushed back, but Trump insisted that US troops be withdrawn from northern Syria — a step confirmed last weekend.
With the American departure, Kurdish groups and the SDF conceded to a regime advance, supported by Russia, into territory which they had claimed as part of the autonomous Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).
Erdoğan did not refer to Manbij in a Tuesday speech as he pronounced that Turkey would continue operations until all goals were achieved.
Speaking at the Turkic Council Summit in Azerbaijan, the Turkish President said, “We expect strong support from our brothers regarding Turkey’s fight against terrorism.”