Syrian Army ‘takes control’ of key city

Damascus: The Syrian Army entered the key city of Manbij on Friday for the first time in six years and raised the national flag on it following the withdrawal of Kurdish militia, according to the state TV.

A Kurdish militia controlling the area withdrew and invited Syrian forces to retake the city amid fears that Turkish troops would launch a new offensive, the BBC reported.

Turkey considers the the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the allied Syrian Democratic Forces as terrorist and separatist groups due to their links with the Turkey-banned Kurdistan Workers Party. The request by the US-backed Kurds followed US President Donald Trump’s announcement on withdrawal of American troops from Syria.

“Out of the commitment of the Syrian Army to handle its responsibilities and upon the calls of the people of Manbij, the general command of the Syrian Army declares entering Manbij and hosting the Syrian flag on it,” the Syrian Army said in a statement.

The Syrian Armed Forces guarantee the security to all people in the area, the statement said, adding that “the Army underscores the concerted efforts to dislodge the invaders and occupiers off of the Syrian soil”.

In a statement, the YPG said its forces withdrew from Manbij, urging the Syrian forces to assume control over that city in the northern countryside of Aleppo province near the Turkish border.

“We invite the Syrian government forces … to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particular Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion,” it said.

The YPG continued that it will focus on the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group on the east of the Euphrates River.

Handing over Manbij to the Syrian Army came in light of the recent Turkish threats to launch a wide-scale campaign against the Kurdish militia in northern and northeastern Syria.

Earlier this year, the Kurdish militia lost the northern enclave of Afrin to the Turkish forces after they rejected the entry of the Syrian government forces to assume control of Afrin.

The American forces still have a presence in Manbij. Earlier this year, the US agreed with Turkey to run joint patrols between Manbij and its countryside, which is controlled by the Turkish-backed groups.

The Kurdish militia groups, which have been controlling areas in northern and northeastern Syria since the early time of the more than seven-year-long war, have felt the pinch after Trump’s decision of pulling out American forces from Syria.

The US has been providing the Kurdish-backed groups substantial aid to consolidate their gains in northern Syria and to launch offensives to retake areas held by the IS group.