Russia has told Turkey to let the Syrian government take back areas vacated by US troops with Ankara preparing to clear Kurdish fighters from a town in the war-torn country.
The Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry said it expects the territory to be handed to Assad’s forces after US president Donald Trump announced a pullout from the country last week – a move that surprised allies and sparked the resignation of two of his top aides.
Turkey has said it is working with Washington to coordinate the withdrawal of US forces but remains ‘determined’ to clear US-allied Kurdish fighters from Manbij in northern Syria. Pictures have emerged today showing Turkish armoured military vehicles and troop carriers being dispatched to the border with Syria.
However, Syrian Bashar al-Assad’s troops and Russian forces have also started deploying to the front lines around the town.
Yesterday, Moscow’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova emphasised that territories in eastern Syria should be handed over to the Syrian government in line with international law.
She said Moscow was unaware of any details of the planned US withdrawal from Syria, but added that the move would help peaceful settlement in Syria if implemented.
‘If the troop withdrawal happens, it would have a positive impact on the situation,’ Ms Zakharova said at a briefing.
US president Donald Trump announced the pullout from Syria last week, surprising allies and sparking the resignation of two of his top aides.
The US backed the Kurdish-led forces in oil-rich eastern Syria for four years in the fight against ISIS militants, and its withdrawal will leave the area up for grabs.
Asked about Turkey’s plans to launch an attack on the area, Ms Zakharova answered that Russia and Turkey had closely coordinated their actions in Syria, ‘including military counter-terrorist operations’, but would not elaborate further.
A spokesman for Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters said that his fighters would not accept the return of government forces to areas in eastern Syria, including Manbij town, after US forces withdraw.
Youssef Hammoud, spokesman for the Syrian National Army (SNA), which is expected to be a core force in a Turkish campaign in eastern Syria, said the return of government forces to the area would trigger ‘a disaster and a catastrophe’ with a new wave of refugees and the displaced people.
Mr Hammoud said one main aim of the Turkey-led operation to reclaim eastern Syria was to create the conditions and space for the return of refugees and displaced persons, who fled the Syrian government.
The SNA said up to 15,000 of its fighters were prepared to enter the areas once the US pulled out.
For weeks, Turkey has been threatening to launch a new offensive against the Kurdish fighters, who partnered with the US to drive ISIS out of much of northern and eastern Syria.
Ankara views the Kurdish forces as terrorists because of their links to an insurgent group inside Turkey.
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters have been moving to the outskirts of Manbij and the Turkish army continues to dispatch tanks, artillery and other equipment to the border and an area administered by Turkey in northwestern Syria, according to Turkish media reports.