According to state media, the Syrian military claims that a group of Kurdish militants invaded Mabishi after the government called to take control of the northern region and protect the government from the threat of an attack by Turkey.
State-run SANA news agency said the Syrian army raised the national flag in Manbij on Friday and pledged to guarantee “full security for all Syrian citizens and others present in the area”.
However, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish border, said residents of Manbij, which lies 30km south of the Turkish border, dispute the Syrian army’s claim.
“Manbij residents who we spoke to have said that they have not seen any sign of Syrian forces in their city. But what we know is that Syrian government troops have already been on the outskirts of the city, where they were part of an international coalition that is fighting remnants of ISIL,” he said.
Ilham Ahmed, a high-ranking Kurdish official, told the Associated Press that the army had arrived at the Manbi front, but had not captured the city.
The Syrian military declaration came moments after the People’s Protection Unit, or YPG, requested President Bashar al-Assad’s government to prevent a “Turkish invasion” in the area.
That appeal follows a US decision it would withdraw all its troop from Syria.
We invite the Syrian government forces to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion.https://t.co/OAkymO8s9Q
YPG, which regards Turkey as a “terrorist” group, says that the militants have withdrawn their forces to fight Islamic countries and the Levant (also known as ISIS, ISIL).
At the forefront, along with the YPG, the Democratic Republic of Syria (Manbij) won ISIS in 2016, the cornerstone of the US struggle for support with armed groups.
Negotiations with Syria and the Russian government agreed to allow government troops to come to power after the withdrawal of American troops.”The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive,” Ahmed said.
“If the Turks’ excuse is the [Kurdish fighters], they will leave their posts to the government.”
Turkey had threatened a military operation against Manbij to remove the Kurdish-led forces there. Turkey and its allied fighters have been amassing troops around the city in recent days.
Our correspondent said the YPG’s appeal was a “tactic by its fighters to avoid confrontation with the Turkish forces who they, of course, know they are no match for”.
Following the conflicting reports regarding Manbij on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan said Turkey will have no reason to be in Manbij once “terrorist organisations” leave.
The Turkish threats triggered the US announcement that it would withdraw troops from Syria.
A timetable for the withdrawal has not yet been made public. But the surprise US decision rattled allies and the US Syrian Kurdish partners, who scrambled to find new allies to protect their Kurdish-administered areas in northern Syria.
Assad’s government has said it welcomes the Kurdish group returning under its authority. But government officials have stated they will not consider an autonomous area, a main demand for the Kurds.
There was no immediate response from the United States.