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US Troops in Manbij to 'Deter' Skirmishes Between Turks, Kurds


Fighters of the Manbij military council, take an overwatch position in the southern rural area of Manbij, Syria, June 1, 2016.

Fighters of the Manbij military council, take an overwatch position in the southern rural area of Manbij, Syria, June 1, 2016.

The U.S. military has deployed a small number of forces in and around Manbij, Syria, to "deter" different parties from attacking each other and ensure that all groups focus on the fight against Islamic State militants, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters that this effort was a new kind of "reassurance and deterrence" mission that started last week.

“We want to have a visible show that we are there in order to deter all parties from fighting anybody other than ISIS and to reassure that ISIS has been driven from Manbij,” Davis said, using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

"Manbij is liberated,and there's no need for further fighting there,” he added.

A 'common enemy'

The U.S. troops are not carrying out an offensive operation in Manbij but do have the ability to defend themselves if attacked, Davis said. The troops include both U.S. special operations forces and conventional forces operating under the special operations task force.

Davis said the “common enemy” is Islamic State, whose forces lie south of Manbij and southeast of the Syrian city of al-Bab.

A VOA videographer in Manbij captured video of U.S. troops in eight-wheeled Stryker combat vehicles. One vehicle was filmed driving down a road flying an American flag on the back of the Stryker.


US role in Manbij unsure

A local council member in Manbij told VOA that U.S. troops were there to broker talks between Kurdish and Turkish forces. Although U.S. officials at the Pentagon told VOA on Monday they were not ware of any talks, discussions among the U.S.'s top general and his Russia and Turkish counterparts were announced Tuesday.

“We [have] hope in the [U.S.-led] coalition and we believe that this coordination will continue and that they will not abandon us,” Shervan Darwish, a member of the Manbij Military Council, told VOA. “According to our alliance, protecting Manbij is their onus as well.”

Kurdish and Turkish forces in the area have engaged in skirmishes in recent days.

A US army soldier and Stryker armored vehicle take part in the "Arrow 16" exercise with the Finnish Army in Niinisalo, Finland, May 4, 2016. U.S. troops are using the Stryker vehicle while offering support near Manbij, Syria, March 6, 2017.

A US army soldier and Stryker armored vehicle take part in the "Arrow 16" exercise with the Finnish Army in Niinisalo, Finland, May 4, 2016. U.S. troops are using the Stryker vehicle while offering support near Manbij, Syria, March 6, 2017.

According to some Turkish press reports, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) have shelled Turkish military positions with mortar fire near the town of al-Bab. Four Turkish soldiers have been wounded and taken to various Turkish hospitals in Gaziantep and Kilis.

But a Kurdish commander says Turkish troops are attacking them.

Turkey “has increased its attacks on us in the past two days,” Kurdish commander Ahmed Hemo told VOA. “But our forces have foiled at least three attacks.”

VOA's Kasim Cindemir and Sirwan Kajjo contributed to this report along with VOA's Kurdish service.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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