Officials from a coalition of Arab and Kurdish militants operating in northeastern Syria said Friday that they had been witnessing increased activity by Western forces in the region, adding that military forces from the US, Britain, and France had been setting up new bases around the city of Manbij, presstv.com reported.
“The United States and France have increased the number of their military in Manbij,” said Helil Bozi, the commander of the so-called Military Council of Manbij of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). He said British forces, too, had been deployed to the same territories.
Bozi, whose ragtag militant group has been allied to US forces over the past years, said the increased presence was clearly a bid to counter a potential Turkish military offensive into Manbij, as Ankara has vowed to expand its operation from areas in the northwest of Syria, where it has been battling Kurdish militants, to the east.
“The US has deployed its Special Forces units near the Sajur River, thereby setting a red line the crossing of which will be seen by the [US-led] coalition forces as an attack and will prompt retaliatory actions,” he said.
Bozi added that the increased presence proved that the US had no intention of leaving the Kurdish-dominated territories in northern Syria — as demanded by Turkey.
Other Kurdish official confirmed the increased military presence of coalition forces in the region, saying US, British, and French forces had also been deployed to Tell Abyad, Dayr al-Zawr, Raqqah, and Tabqa.
The increased deployment comes despite US President Donald Trump’s earlier expression of his tendency to withdraw US forces from Syria ‘very soon.’ He was reportedly later persuaded by his top aides to take back that stance.
US military officials said, however, that the new deployments were not against Trump’s will for a pullout, saying they were necessary to adapt to the operational needs of the military on the ground.
The US has reportedly more than 2,000 troops stationed in eastern Syria, in addition to several thousand others in the Arab country’s north.
Apart from the troops on the ground, the US and a number of its allies have been bombarding what they say are Daesh positions inside Syria since September 2014, without any authorization from the Damascus government or the United Nations.