Syrian regime troops entered the key Syrian city of Manbij, state news agency SANA said on Monday, after Damascus deployed troops to the country’s north to contain a days-long Turkish offensive.
A local official in Manbij, controlled by a military council linked to the Kurdish administration, confirmed that troops had “entered (Manbij) and deployed on frontlines.”
The Syrian army had dispatched a limited number of troops around Manbij last year at the request of Kurdish forces to protect the area from a feared Turkish assault.
But the latest deployment is the most significant by Damascus since it withdrew from the city in Aleppo province in 2012.
It comes as part of a recent deal clinched between the Kurds and Damascus that has seen regime troops deploy in several Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria’s north on Monday to protect the region from Ankara’s assault.
Turkey is in the sixth day of its offensive against Kurdish forces, which it sees as “terrorists” but which were a crucial ally for the United States and western powers against the ISIS.
Ankara’s Syrian proxies massed on the western edges of Manbij on Monday ahead of a planned attack, said an AFP correspondent there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he expected Kurdish forces to withdraw from the strategic city, located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the Turkish border.
“When Manbij is evacuated, we will not go in there as Turkey. Our Arab brothers, who are the real owners, the tribes… will return there. Our approach is to ensure their return and security there,” he said on Monday.
Manbij is a former ISIS stronghold now held by the Manbij Military Council, linked to Kurdish authorities.
It constitutes a major point of contention between Syria’s Kurdish minority, which maintains de facto autonomy in parts of northern and northeastern Syria, and neighboring Turkey.
Kurdish fighters seized Manbij from ISIS in 2016 but withdrew from the area last year to avert an attack by Ankara.