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Syrian Kurdish Militia Begins Moving East of Euphrates, US Says

Turkish army tanks and armored personnel carriers move toward the Syrian border in Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2016.
Turkish army tanks and armored personnel carriers move toward the Syrian border in Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2016.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Thursday that Syrian Kurdish forces have begun withdrawing to the east of the Euphrates River, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

Ankara demanded the pullback after Turkey sent forces across the border to take the Islamic State-held town of Jarablus on Wednesday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State fighters put up "very little resistance" before fleeing to neighboring villages in the face of the Turkish onslaught.

U.S.-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, fighters also reportedly have begun pulling back from the town of Manbij, captured from IS several weeks ago, in a move to comply with Turkish demands.

However, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Arab media that YPG fighters were still battling on the western side of the Euphrates River and had even captured some ground.

Kurdish militia fighters “seized control of at least six villages northeast of the town of Manbij and southeast of Jarablus, and they are located west of the Euphrates River,” Rahman said.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported IS militants attacked Kurdish militia positions Thursday south of Manbij. It was not immediately clear, however, if that was responsible for complicating plans for a Kurdish pullback.

Syrian government media accused Turkey of behind-the-scenes support for the IS group, which it claims withdrew from the border town of Jarablus in response to Turkish demands. Syrian media notes the IS withdrawal occurred quickly and no mines or booby-traps were placed, in contrast with the bitter and bloody battles for Manbij and the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

Arab media reported Thursday that 10 more Turkish tanks had entered Syrian territory, bringing the number of tanks on Syrian soil to 30. There were also reports of more Turkish heavy armor being shipped by rail to the south from Ankara and Istanbul.

While visiting Turkey on Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned Syrian Kurdish forces that they will lose U.S. support if they do not withdraw to the east of the Euphrates.