US military carries out ‘show of force’ in Syria after Turkish-backed fighters get close to American forces, official says – CNBC

Turkey pressed ahead with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday despite U.S. sanctions and growing calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that was abandoned by U.S. forces.

Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of Manbij, a flashpoint where U.S. troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.

Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts and from a convoy of military vehicles.

Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing Moscow’s Defense Ministry, said later that Syrian forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square km (386 miles) around Manbij, including Tabqa military airfield.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said an attack from Manbij that killed one Turkish soldier was launched by Syrian government forces in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of U.S. policy on Syria.

As well as clearing the way for the Turkish incursion, the U.S. withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory amount to a victory for Assad and Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.

The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.

A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain where an SDF spokesman reported a fierce battle going on.

U.S. military aircraft carried out a “show of force” in Syria after Turkish-backed fighters came in close proximity to American forces during the Turkish offensive, a U.S. official told Reuters.

The official said U.S. military aircraft were flown over the area after troops in northeastern Syria felt the Turkish-backed fighters were too close. The Turkish-backed fighters dispersed after the show of force, the official said.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will meet Erdogan on Thursday in Ankara, where he will urge Turkey to reach an immediate ceasefire in Syria and to work toward a negotiated settlement. Erdogan said he told Trump he will never declare a ceasefire in northern Syria.

“Vice President Pence will reiterate President Trump’s commitment to maintain punishing economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached,” the White House said in a statement.

After Trump announced a set of sanctions on Monday to punish Ankara, U.S. prosecutors hit Turkey with charges on the majority state-owned Halkbank for taking part in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.

A Turkish embassy official in Washington said the indictment did not contribute positively to the current state of U.S.-Turkey ties. Turkish and American officials had been in talks on the Halkbank case for at least a year.

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