Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump made a shock announcement over Twitter. According to the American Commander in Chief, ISIS has been defeated in Syria. Following that, he said that U.S. troops stationed in the country would be coming home.
While Trump seems confident this is the case, the news has unsettled those in the region. As reported by ABC News, Turkish forces are starting to gather near a northern Syrian town that has been held by U.S. and Kurdish forces as new reinforcements were seen crossing the border.
A convoy of Turkish troops, a commando unit, was sent into Syria overnight. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that the reinforcements were sent to the front line at Manbij, where the U.S. troops have been based. Fifty vehicles in total traveled into Syria, carrying both troops and equipment.
A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council, Sharfan Darwish, confirmed that the Turkish troops had arrived in the city.
“We are taking necessary measures to defend ourselves if we are attacked,” he said.
This comes even after Turkey had said it would “delay a promised offensive” in eastern Syria following Trump’s announcement.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that he had a “long and productive” call with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he said they had discussed the “slow and highly coordinated” pullout of U.S. troops from the region following his supposed defeat of ISIS. It’s the second time the two leaders have had a lengthy phone conversation in the last 10 days.
— ABC News (@ABC) December 23, 2018
The troops currently deployed in Syria number about 2,000, and officials in the U.S. have been scrambling to coordinate their return home ever since Trump’s announcement last week that they would be removed from the country.
According to Erdogan, the two presidents agreed to “coordinate militarily and diplomatically” to make sure that the U.S. troops withdrawal does not lead to an “authority vacuum.”
Trump’s announcement surprised both his allies and his own experts, resulting in the resignation of two of his top aides. While the president initially demanded an immediate withdrawal of his troops, experts managed to convince him that a timetable would need to be established before anything could be done.
The news was welcomed by Turkey. Ankara views the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces as an extension of the insurgency within its borders, and Erdogan has “vowed to dislodge the Kurdish fighters” that are stationed in Syria along the Turkish border. A deal struck in June was supposed to remove Kurdish militia from Manbij, but according to Ankara, the U.S. and the Kurdish forces didn’t live up to their end of the bargain.
After Trump’s announcement, Erdogan said he would delay the eastern Syria offensive. Turkey plans to continue supporting Syrian opposition fighting groups in the hopes of preventing Syrian government troops from taking advantage of the tension in the region and seizing it.