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Shock for Erdogan as US and Russian troops jointly defend Kurdish controlled Manbij

Manbij Military Council forces, part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), drive a humvee as they patrol the surrounding roads of in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on March 3, 2017. The Turkey-backed rebels launched their advance on Manbij on March 1, initially seizing two villages but losing them to the SDF the following day. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

In an extraordinary twist illustrating the fantastic complexity of the Syria conflict, news agency reports confirm the presence of both US and Russian troops in the Kurdish controlled Syrian town of Manbij.

These reports come just months after the US and Russian militaries faced off against each other in Syria, as previously reported by The Duran (see here and here), and as again recently confirmed in an extraordinary interview given a few weeks ago by Lieutenant General Leonid Reshetnikov, former head of Russia’s chief centre of foreign intelligence analysis, a complete transcript of which can be found in The Saker

Savvy people likely noticed that there was a period in October-November of last year when we were a step away from a military conflict with the United States.

The US military has, somewhat provocatively, published pictures of its Special Forces in Manbij.

Meanwhile the Russian General Staff has confirmed the presence of Russian military personnel accompanying a Syrian humanitarian convoy in Manjib.

Here is a video showing US troops moving into Manbij

And here is a picture of Russian vehicles forming part of the humanitarian convoy

russian humanitarian convoy

It seems that by tacit agreement there has been no actual meeting of US and Russian troops in Manbij.   Instead each are patrolling neighbouring districts and villages.

The London Times, which is also reporting the parallel US and Russian deployments to the same area, describes the situation in this way

US and Russian troops have been patrolling the outskirts of the same Syrian town in the closest co-operation between the superpowers on the battlefield since the Second World War.

In April 1945 the armies shook hands over the River Elbe in Germany. Last Saturday they avoided contact but were only five miles apart, patrolling villages to the west of the city of Manbij, 15 miles south of the Turkish border, in an effort to keep warring factions apart.

Both flew their national flags in a show of strength. Although in theory they were acting as a visible buffer between rival Kurdish and Turkish-backed militias…..

On Saturday photographs showed armoured vehicles flying the Stars and Stripes in the western outskirts of Manbij, which is held by the American-backed militias. Their presence was confirmed in a tweet by Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition against Isis. Meanwhile, that same militia grouping agreed to hand over villages west of the town to the regime. Turkey had been threatening to attack the town to dislodge the Kurds in its attempt to ensure a loyal buffer zone near the border. By handing these villages over, the Kurds hope to prevent a Turkish attack.

As regime troops entered the area, Russian forces accompanied them, carrying aid for residents. Mohammad al-Hamadeh, a doctor, said that it was ironic to see Russian troops in his village of Abu al-Kahf delivering aid when they had been bombing it last month. “The Russian jets had bombed our village and killed my ten-year-old daughter on February 26, when Isis controlled it,” he said.

The transfer of territory by the Kurdish militia the YPG to the Syrian army mentioned by The London Times in its report was first reported five days ago by the Al-Masdar news agency.  The reason for this transfer is explained in a statement by the YPG published in the Al-Masdar news agency report

To reach these objectives [the defense of Manbij] we have transferred, after reaching a new alliance with Russia, the defence of the line to the west of Manbij – where the villages between us and the gang groups [FSA, Ahrar al-Sham] affiliated to the Turkish army are – to Syrian state forces

(bold italics added)

In other words the military movements by the US and Russian militaries in and around Manbij are intended to achieve the same objective: to prevent the Turkish military and its Jihadi allies from seizing Manbij from the Kurds following Turkey’s recent capture of Al-Bab.

The strategy behind these moves has been carefully explained by the Moon of Alabama news site (see here and here).  Effectively the US and Russia have blocked the Turkish army from advancing unilaterally towards ISIS held Raqqa, and from attacking the Kurds, who for different reasons are for the moment allied to both the US and Russia.

Turkish President Erdogan’s aggressive moves in Syria have therefore achieved the extraordinary feat of uniting the US, the Russians, the Syrians and the Kurds, however temporarily, against him.

The US and Russian militaries have almost certainly coordinated their moves with each other, though this was almost certainly done by the local military commanders on the ground rather than through direct talks between Washington and Moscow.  However the top political and military leaderships of the US and Russia (including Trump and Mattis in the US, and Putin and Shoigu in Russia) were undoubtedly informed, and must have agreed to these moves in advance.

These parallel moves by the US and Russian militaries to block Erdogan and Turkey from advancing on Manbij and Raqqa should be construed as an improvisation to deal with the temporary crisis caused by the Turkish military advances in Syria.  They do not imply an alliance between the US and Russia, whether against ISIS, or other Jihadi terrorists, or indeed against Turkey.  For any of these things to happen there would have to be a formal agreement between the US and Russian governments, which realistically can only happen after Presidents Trump and Putin meet with each other, which does not now look to be before the G20 summit in July.

In the meantime we have the extraordinary spectacle of the US, if only temporarily, in de facto alliance with Russia against its NATO ally Turkey, at the same time as Turkey has been reaching out to Russia, and is Russia’s partner in the peace talks in Astana, and in brokering together with Russia a ceasefire in Syria.

Clearly Presidents Putin and Erdogan will have a lot to talk about when Erdogan finally comes to Moscow in a few days time.

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