With the Stars and Stripes flying from the turrets of their armoured lorries, US troops performed a humiliating retreat from a key Syrian base yesterday.
Just after midnight, 15 vehicles pulled out of the facility built three years ago when the city of Manbij was cleared of Islamic State forces. As the US convoy headed one way Syrian fighters headed in the opposite direction – intent on occupying their abandoned positions.
On the orders of Donald Trump, the US Army is abandoning its protection of the Syrian Kurds who led the war against the jihadis. The Kurds have now had to turn to the Syrian regime and its Russian allies in their desperate bid to avoid being over-run by Turkish forces exploiting the American withdrawal.
On the orders of Donald Trump, the US Army is abandoning its protection of the Syrian Kurds who led the war against the jihadis
The Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary outfit waging secret wars on the Kremlin’s behalf, immediately moved into the former US base. At the same time, Syrian government forces took full control of Manbij.
An official from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said: ‘The Russians are in the American base in Manbij now, they helped escort the Americans out of the area and got their base in return.’
Now in its seventh day, Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters is redrawing the map of northern Syria once again in a civil war that has lasted eight years.
On Sunday the SDF was forced to cut a deal with Russian-backed President Bashar Al Assad to stave off potential genocide.
The Kurds have now had to turn to the Syrian regime and its Russian allies in their desperate bid to avoid being over-run by Turkish forces exploiting the American withdrawal. Pictured is a Syrian soldier
Russia announced yesterday that its units were deploying to keep apart the advancing Syrian and Turkish forces. It is a clear sign that Moscow is filling the security vacuum left by Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US soldiers last week.
Moscow’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said fighting between the Turks and Syrians was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘therefore we will not allow it, of course’.
The US President’s unexpected and widely-condemned decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish opposite number Recep Tayyip Erdogan overturned five years of US policy in the Middle East.
Republicans have largely remained loyal to Mr Trump but appear to be losing patience. Defence chiefs and White House advisers all warned him against his Syrian move and Congressional leaders said last night that they wanted to pass a bipartisan motion to overturn Mr Trump’s decision. US news shows have carried alarming reports from Syria highlighting the civilian casualties.
The pressure seemed to be telling last night when Mr Trump phoned Mr Erdogan to demand an immediate ceasefire.
The arrival of the Wagner Group is a dangerous development. In February last year 600 of its mercenaries, armed with tanks and artillery, launched an assault on the SDF only to find US advisers were embedded with them.
Russia announced yesterday that its units were deploying to keep apart the advancing Syrian and Turkish forces. Pictured are Syrian soldiers
Moscow’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said fighting between the Turks and Syrians was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘therefore we will not allow it, of course’
The Wagner forces maintained the assault for four hours despite being hammered by US airstrikes. An estimated 300 Russians were killed or wounded.
Western intelligence agencies believe Russia also sent Wagner mercenaries into Libya earlier this year to help General Khalifa Haftar overthrow the UN-backed government. It was suspected that Moscow wanted to exploit the instability to launch a formal intervention.
Footage posted online yesterday showed Russian war correspondent Oleg Blokhin, known to be following the Wagner group, smirking as he looked around the abandoned US base. He boasted: ‘Yesterday it was them and today it is us here.’
A senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that US personnel have ‘been assisting the Russian forces to navigate through previously unsafe areas quickly’.
A senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that US personnel have ‘been assisting the Russian forces to navigate through previously unsafe areas quickly’. Pictured are Turkey’s forces advancing towards Manbij, Syria
The official said: ‘It is essentially a handover. However, it’s a quick out, not something that will include walk-throughs, etc. Everything is about making out with as much as possible of our things while destroying any sensitive equipment that cannot be moved.’
A TV crew understood to be from Russia Today filmed the base, showing what the US forces had left behind, including a television, sofas and bunks with bed linen.
Clashes between the SDF and Turkey continued yesterday, with Ankara saying two of its soldiers were killed by shelling in the Manbij region. It claimed 15 ‘terrorists’ were killed when the Turkish army returned fire.
From Manbij, Saddam Al Hasan, 28, said: ‘No one wants the people to be homeless and killed. I am happy to allow Russia to enter if they provide security and safety, and stop the ongoing war. I am happy that they will protect the borders of my city from the barbaric attacks of the armed factions and I hope that the crisis will end after uniting with the SDF.’
Pictured is the Syrian Army driving one way towards Kobane, and Americans driving the other
President Erdogan has vowed to ignore growing condemnation of the invasion from the West. Turkey is a Nato member and the alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, met Boris Johnson yesterday for talks.
Britain and France have accused Turkey and the US of undoing five years of work in fighting IS, whose fighters and families are plotting escape from detention facilities.
French prime minister Edouard Philippe said: ‘This intervention is devastating for our collective security with the inevitable resurgence of Islamic State in northern Syria and also probably northwest Iraq.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday suggested three British orphans whose parents were killed in Syria after joining Islamic State could be allowed to return to the UK.
Mr Raab told MPs the Government did not want to see British foreign fighters return to the UK but, given the ‘fluid situation’, this might change. His comments were rebuffed by Home Office sources.
Additional reporting by Bedir Ahmed in Syria and Tom L