By Joanne Stocker and Jared Szuba
Syrian regime forces entered Manbij after Turkey-backed rebels fighting under the banner of the Syrian National Army launched an offensive against, the latest target in the ground incursion against the Syrian Democratic Forces.
A Syrian National Army statement said the fighters were launching the operation “with the goal of liberating the city of Manbij and its vicinity” from the SDF on Monday, October 14.
Earlier on Monday President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Syrian Arab fighters, not Turkish forces, would enter the city, and that Ankara had an understanding with Russia about northeast Syria.
Russian and Syrian forces are already based in al-Arima to the west.
The MMC said it thwarted an attack on its positions around the Sajur line.
Earlier on Monday, local sources provided The Defense Post with videos and photos showing truckloads of pro-regime fighters passing through the city’s gates and continuing eastward towards ongoing the fighting with Turkey-backed rebels.
Voice messages by Kurdish local officials circulated on Sunday telling civilians that the Syrian regime would deploy on the region’s outskirts to obstruct the Turkish-led offensive.
Syrian state media SANA reported that government troops entered the city late on Monday.
The attack came on the sixth day of fighting since Turkey and aligned Syrian rebels launched an incursion into northeast Syria aimed at driving out the SDF, which had been a core part of the U.S.-led Coalition fighting Islamic State.
Dubbed Operation Peace Spring, the offensive has been marked by reports of extreme violence against civilians, field executions of SDF fighters, and raised fears of ethnic cleansing among Kurds, who are the majority of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the SDF.
Ankara considers the YPG, the multi-ethnic SDF and its civilian arm, the Syrian Democratic Council, to be inextricably linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party which has waged an insurgency in Turkey since 1984.
An agreement announced by the SDF late Sunday would see Syrian regime and Russian forces enter Manbij and other key towns along the Syria-Turkey border in a bid to drive back the Turkey-supported rebels, but it was unclear whether pro-regime troops would deploy to protect Manbij.
A Western intelligence source said Syrian pro-regime forces were moving south and southwest of the city, but unable to cross through U.S. lines. A local source told The Defense Post that he saw U.S. forces near their base west of Manbij as of Sunday night.
U.S. President Donald Trump decided to pull American troops back from key positions along the Syria-Turkey border last week following a phone call with Erdogan. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the rest of the 1,000 or so U.S. troops in northeast Syria would withdraw south, but by Monday there were reports they would evacuate the country entirely, leaving just 150 forces at al-Tanf base near the Jordan border.
The SDF captured Manbij from ISIS in 2016 after a 75-day battle later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander.