WASHINGTON — Russian military police have started patrols in northern Syria in an area where U.S. troops have entrenched positions, adding new militarization challenges to a region already contested by several elements.
The Russian patrols are in near the town of Manbij, where mostly-Kurdish troops supported by the Pentagon have vowed to rebel any Turkish forces positioning themselves for a likely assault.
U.S. forces remain in and around Manbij, with no timetable for withdrawal established, Pentagon officials told TMN on Thursday.
Pentagon officials have previously said that preparations for a Turkish offensive against the Kurds now in Manbij would be the precursor to a Turkish attempt at a blitzkrieg across northern Syria.
The Kurdish troops make up the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Force, the primary land element of the U.S.-led anti -ISIS coalition.
Ankara has accused the Kurds in the SDF of belong to a terrorist organization, an accusation the U.S. refutes.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rebuffed national security adviser John Bolton during his visit to Ankara. Shortly after Bolton departed Turkey were the first reports of the Russian patrols.
Later news reports included videos of Russian military vehicles on patrol.
The Russian patrols are a vivid illustration of how various parties plan to fit the void that will be created once U.S. troops leave Syria, analysts said.
Kurdish leaders have reached out to Russia and the Assad government in Damascus for protection from the anticipated Turkish military strike.
According to news reports, the Kurds have asked Russia to help secure a deal that would restore Syrian government sovereignty over territory taken by the Kurds since 2012 in exchange for semi-autonomy and self-governance.
The SDF garnered control of Manbij in 2016 and almost immediately faced a threat from Turkey and one-time CIA-sponsored rebel groups who jumped sides and aligned with Ankara.
After months of haggling, U.S. and Turkey began to join patrols in the area on November 1, 2018. Tensions have continued to increase, however.