United States officials on Friday denied Syrian claims that it has recaptured the northern city of Manbij, which was held by Kurdish militia, the Ahval news website reported.
A statement was posted on the official Twitter account of the International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve, a military coalition to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“Despite incorrect information about changes to military forces in the city of Manbij, Syria, CJTFOIR has seen no indication that these claims are true. We call on everyone to respect the integrity of Manbij and the safety of its citizens,” the statement said.
Earlier on Friday, the Syrian army said it had entered Manbij for the first time in years after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) urged Damascus to protect the town from the threat of Turkish attacks.
Syria is assuming its right to impose its sovereignty on all areas of the country and responded to calls from Manbij residents to take over the area, the Syrian military said, according to the state-run Sana news agency.
The operation reportedly began after US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syrian territory.
The Syrian flag has been hoisted above Manbij, Syria’s army said, adding that it “reiterates its insistence on smashing terrorism and expelling the invaders and occupiers out of Syrian territory.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in an initial reaction to the report earlier in the day, said Turkey would have no business in Manbij so long as Kurdish militants left the city.
Russia said the operation was “a positive step that contributes to bringing stability to the country.”
Kurdish militants controlling many regions of northern Syria had started to negotiate with Damascus to provide protection after Turkey threatened to invade Manbij and areas east of the Euphrates River to quash their efforts for political autonomy.
Turkey and its allied fighters have been amassing troops near Manbij in recent days.
A timetable for the US withdrawal from Syria has not yet been made public.
Meanwhile, Turkey-backed Syrian rebel forces said they had begun moving towards Manbij with Turkish troops to show “full readiness to start military operations,” Arab News reported. An organization tracking the conflict in Syria and mapping troop movements — syria.liveuamap.org — said Free Syrian Army rebels were moving a large convoy toward the city.
The Turkish Defense Ministry called on all sides to avoid any move that would increase instability, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
“We warn all parties to stay away from provocative actions and rhetoric that will make the region more unstable,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The [YPG] that controls the region by force does not have the right or the authority to make a statement and invite other elements on behalf of people in the region,” it said.
Ankara sees the YPG an offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish army since the mid-1980s.