Russian military police have begun patrolling around the Syrian city of Manbij, a spokesperson said, moving into an area once held by U.S.-backed forces.
Russian forces are acting in support of Syrian government troops who recently deployed in Manbij, in Aleppo province near the border with the Turkey.
Fearing a Turkish military assault, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) invited regime forces into Manbij late last month after U.S. President Donald Trump’s shock announcement of a full American withdrawal from Syria.
Speaking in a report on Rossiya 24 television, Russian military police spokesperson Yusup Mamatov said on Tuesday, January 8 that MPs had started patrolling “the security zone around Manbij.”
“The task is to ensure security in the area of responsibility [and] to monitor the situation and movements of armed formations,” Mamatov said.
The report said Russian military police would be deployed in the area “on a regular basis.”
It showed a group of around a dozen khaki-clad armed military police driving through villages in jeeps and lorries flying the Russian flag.
The route of military police patrols will change regularly, Tass reported Mamtov as saying.
SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel told The Defense Post that the patrols were not in areas controlled by the Manbij Military Council.
After Trump’s announcement, U.S. officials encouraged the northern Syria administration to try to find a solution with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, senior Syrian Democratic official Ilham Ahmed told The Defense Post.
On Saturday, senior Syrian Democratic Forces official and past YPG spokesperson Rêdûr Xelîl said a deal between northern Syria officials and Damascus was inevitable.
“Reaching a solution between the autonomous administration and the Syrian government is inevitable because our areas are part of Syria,” AFP reported Xelil as saying.
Critics have warned Trump that an abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Syria would allow allies of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime – including Russia and Iran – to increase their influence in the country.
About 2,000 U.S. troops, mainly special forces, are deployed in Syria to work with local fighters in the battle against Islamic State.
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency in Turkey for decades, but the militia is not a designated terrorist group in the U.S. and forms the backbone of the Coalition-backed SDF.
U.S. State Department officials previously expressed concern that any Turkey-led incursion would put Coalition forces at serious risk, and recommended that CJTF-OIR commander Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera increase patrols and cooperation on the Manbij roadmap agreed between the U.S. and Turkey.
Manbij was captured from Islamic State on August 12, 2016 by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces after a 75-day battle, later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander. Fighters from the YPG and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) made up the bulk of those deployed in the operation, and the YPG said it handed its points of control west of the Euphrates river to MMC as it had agreed ahead of the offensive.
Ankara has long disputed that version of events, accused Washington of using the Manbij roadmap as a “tool” for “stalling,” and continues to demand all YPG fighters vacate the area.
Trump has in recent days sought to calm fears of an abrupt U.S. pullout, saying any withdrawal would be done in a “prudent” manner.
It was not clear how close the Russian patrols may have been to areas where U.S. forces are deployed.
Syria’s Kurdish minority has largely stayed out of the country’s seven-year civil war, but controls large parts of the north and northeast, much of it seized in the U.S.-supported campaign against ISIS.
With reporting from AFP