U.S. forces have played the role of peacekeeper in the Syrian city of Manbij since its Kurdish-led partner force liberated the city from ISIS fighters in 2016.
Turkish threats to “liberate” Manbij despite the removal of ISIS fighters from the city years ago forced joint patrols between Russian, U.S. and Turkish forces to keep the peace.
That peace could could soon melt away as Col. Myles B. Caggins III, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, announced Tuesday the U.S. had pulled its forces out of the Syrian city.
Russian and Syrian troops have reportedly stepped up to fill the void of the vacating U.S. forces. Meanwhile, most U.S. forces in Syria are pulling out of the country.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops being withdrawn from northern Syria will reposition in Iraq, Kuwait and possibly Jordan.
The official spoke to the AP on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive planning for a U.S. pullout amid heavy fighting between Turkish and Syrian Kurdish forces.
The official said the American troops have pulled out of the Manbij area, where U.S. outposts were set up in 2017. Troops are consolidating their positions to prepare to fly out of the country soon.
The official says U.S. troops based in Iraq could conduct cross-border operations against the Islamic State group in Syria as they did before creating the now-abandoned partnership with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
According to The Washington Post, Russia announced its forces were patrolling between Syrian and Turkish troops near Manbij.
Syrian state run media SANA reported Monday that Syrian forces had also entered the city of Manbij.
Syrian regime forces have been streaming toward the Syria-Turkey border following an agreement with the Syrian Democratic Forces to help thwart Turkish operations targeting Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
In 2017, the U.S. military referred to its patrols in Manbij as “reassurance and deterrence” to help keep the peace between combative allies.
With the U.S. out of the picture, the stage is set for a potential bloody conflict between the major players in Syria’s civil war that has raged since 2011.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Monday that the White House had ordered a “deliberate withdrawal” of U.S. forces from northeast Syria in an attempt to avoid “being engulfed in a broader conflict."
In a statement from the White House Monday President Donald Trump said that U.S. force leaving northeast Syria would “now redeploy and remain in the region to monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of 2014.”
Trump also announced a small number of U.S. troops would remain at the al Tanf garrison near the Syria-Iraq border to help disrupt ISIS fighters.
Turkey launched military operations Oct. 9 against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Turkey believes SDF fighters are an armed wing of the internationally designated terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
Trump on Monday said he would be signing an executive order to impose sanctions on current and former Turkish officials who have contributed to the “destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.”
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.