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Isolated Manbij faces rival Syrian factions on two fronts

Both pro-government troops and Turkey-backed rebels eye strategically important SDF-controlled Manbij

Forces loyal to the Syrian government mobilized near the contested city of Manbij following a White House announcement that the U.S. would allow a Turkish incursion into northeast Syria, two spokespeople for the Kurdish-affiliated forces The Defense Post.

Manbij Military Council spokesperson Shervan Derwish told The Defense Post that his side had received information on Monday, October 8 that Syrian pro-government forces, supported by Russian troops, had begun movements in area.

“We received information that they’ve moved in preparation in case there are attacks [by Turkey]. The nature of their movement is not clear,” Shervan said. “For the moment the situation is stable.”

“They moved from their prior position,” he added. “But their numbers, where they’re going, if they’re awaiting Turkey’s move, this is obscure,” he said. “As a force, we’re taking all precautions.”

Meanwhile, videos circulated on social media on Tuesday purportedly showing Turkey-backed rebels mobilizing in preparation to enter the city. “Now, this column of the sons of the Manbij tribes is heading, is heading towards Manbij … Inshahallah we will conquer it,” fighters in one video can be heard saying in Arabic.

The Defense Post could not independently confirm the authenticity of the videos.

Turkey is threatening an imminent military incursion dubbed “Operation Peace Spring” to clear the area east of the Euphrates of Western-backed Kurdish-led fighters in preparation to resettle up to three million Syrian refugees there. Though Manbij lies west of the Euphrates, the Turkish government has threatened to invade the city since U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured it from Islamic State in 2016.

Syria mapThe SDF captured Manbij from ISIS on August 12, 2016 after a 75-day battle, later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander.

The Turkey-organized Syrian National Army, a conglomerate of Syrian Arab rebel groups, began making preparations to move towards Manbij, state-run Anadolu Agency reported Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to endorse the Turkish operation in a White House statement late Sunday that said American forces would leave the immediate area. The Department of Defense and Trump himself have since tried to temper the statement.

The Syrian government has condemned Turkey’s planned incursion as a violation of Syrian sovereignty. A deployment of Syrian pro-regime militias to the area in 2016 is credited with stopping short a Turkish attack on the city during Operation Euphrates Shield.

Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces’ Military Media Command, also said Syrian pro-regime forces had mobilized.

“There were movements of the regime’s forces, but we do not know whether these movements are threatening or for some other purpose,” Mervan said.

“We haven’t yet confirmed if the [Syrian pro-regime] movements show an intention to advance,” he said

“They know we are under pressure from [Turkey’s] threats and the unclear American policy,” he said. “The regime is trying to bleed us politically until we submit to their demands.”

Control of Manbij gives access to important Euphrates river crossing points. Northeast, there’s a bridge to Sarrin, south of Kobane, near an air field used by the U.S. while further south lies the strategic Tishrin dam.

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