WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military has deployed a small number of forces in and around the Syrian city of Manbij as part of a new role to ensure that the different parties in the area do not attack each other, a Pentagon spokesman said on Monday.
Captain Jeff Davis told reporters the forces were stationed inside and to the west of Manbij starting last week to be a “visible sign of deterrence and reassurance.”
While U.S forces have carried out training and advising missions in Manbij, this is the first time they have been deployed to make sure that Turkey- and U.S.-backed forces do not attack each other and focus on fighting Islamic State militants.
The villages west of Manbij have been a focus of fighting since Wednesday between Turkish-backed rebels opposed to the Syrian government and the Manbij Military Council, part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that includes the Kurdish YPG group.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.
“This is a new effort, this is the first time we’ve had to do something like this, which is to ensure that we are out there as a visible symbol that the enemy is cleared out of Manbij,” Davis said.
“There is not a need for others to advance on it in attempts to ‘liberate’ it,” Davis added. He did not give a specific number of U.S. forces involved but said it was fewer than dozens and was carried out under existing authorities.
“We have brought in some additional forces to be able to do this reassurance and deterrence mission,” Davis said, adding that commanders had the authority to move small forces in for a short period of time.
The city is controlled by the Manbij Military Council, which confirmed in a statement that the U.S.-led alliance had boosted its presence in the city recently after “the increase in Turkish threats to occupy the city.”
After clashing with Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels west of Manbij last week, the council declared a deal with Russia to hand villages at the front line with Turkish forces to Syrian government control.
Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney