The announcement signaled that Russia is moving to fill a security vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal and illustrates the loss of American influence in the war.
By Carlotta Gall and
CEYLANPINAR, Turkey — Russia said on Tuesday that its military units were patrolling territory in northern Syria vacated by the Americans following the withdrawal ordered by President Trump, underscoring the sudden loss of United States influence in the eight-year-old Syria war.
The Americans had until Monday maintained two military bases in the area, and Russia’s announcement signaled that Moscow, the Syrian government’s most important ally, was moving to fill a security void left by the withdrawal of both the American military and its partners in their effort to destroy the Islamic State and its Syrian base.
Videos circulating on social media appeared to show a Russian-speaking man filming himself walking around a recently evacuated United States military base in northern Syria, punctuating the message that the Russians were now in charge.
President Trump decided last week to abruptly yank American forces from a Kurdish enclave of northern Syria, ending a longstanding alliance with Syrian Kurdish fighters regarded by Turkey as terrorists. Turkey’s military then invaded, driving tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and forcing the Syrian Kurdish fighters to align themselves with the Syrian military in a stunning switch of allegiances for survival.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that its military police, which had already established a presence in other parts of Syria, were patrolling along a line of contact separating Syrian and Turkish forces, who have been racing to control large parts of northern Syria since the Turkish invasion began last Wednesday.
The Russians were patrolling near the strategically important city of Manbij, vacated by the Americans and Syrian Kurds and now occupied Syrian government troops. The statement also said Russian troops were coordinating “with the Turkish side.”
The developments came as a spokesman for the United States-led coalition said on Twitter that its forces, which include French and British soldiers, had left Manbij. “Coalition forces are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria,” Col. Myles B. Caggins wrote. “We are out of Manbij.”
Russia and Turkey will soon be the only foreign armies in the area.
Syria’s state broadcaster also reported that Syrian government troops had deployed inside Manbij, as Turkish-led forces advanced in the countryside outside the city. Elsewhere, Kurdish-led fighters attempted to retake another important town near the Turkish border, Ras al-Ain, from Turkish-led forces.
Heavy fire from machine guns could be heard to the south and southwest of Ras al-Ain and from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, which is less than a mile from the fighting. Turkish artillery pounded an eastern suburb of the Syrian settlement midmorning, raising clouds of smoke above low farmhouses and pistachio groves.
TURKISH ARMY AND
Ras al Ain
Syrian Army forces
deployed to a bridge.
Syrian Army forces
As of Tuesday, fighting in Ras al-Ain and other areas of northern Syria has forced at least 160,000 people from their homes, according to United Nations estimates. The Kurdish authorities put the figure at 270,000.
4 Big Questions About Syria’s Future
The surprise American withdrawal from parts of northern Syria reshuffled old alliances and touched off a new stage of the eight-year war.
Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from northern Syria drew global condemnation, left Kurdish fighters feeling betrayed, and raised the possibility that the president had made a strategic blunder that would open a volatile new chapter in the war. Experts on the region warned that the withdrawal of American troops would embolden Russia, Iran and the Islamic State.
Abandoned by the Americans, and quickly losing land to the Turkish force, the Kurdish authorities sought protection from the Syrian government and Russia.
Since the Kurdish authorities asked the government of President Bashar al-Assad for assistance, thousands of Syrian Army troops have flooded into northern Syria for the first time since the government lost control of the region several years ago.
But Syrian government troops have stayed clear of the border region near Ras al-Ain, where Kurdish troops fight on alone. Instead, government forces have deployed to other strategic positions, such as Manbij, to help alleviate pressure on Kurdish fighters on the front line.
The last-minute alliance comes at great cost to the Kurdish authorities, who are effectively giving up self-rule.
Syrian Kurdish militias established a system of self-rule in northern Syria in 2012, when the chaos of the Syrian civil war gave them the chance to create a sliver of autonomous territory free of central government influence.
The fighters greatly expanded their territory after they partnered with an international military coalition, led by the United States, to push the Islamic State from the area.
After the Kurdish-led fighters captured ISIS territory, they assumed responsibility for its governance, eventually controlling roughly a quarter of the Syrian landmass. They have also been guarding thousands of ISIS fighters and their families, hundreds of whom fled a detention camp in Ras al-Ain after Turkish-led forces bombed the surrounding area.
The Kurds’ control of the land in Syria enraged Turkey, since the militia is an offshoot of a guerrilla group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. Turkey has long pressed the United States to abandon its alliance with Kurdish fighters so Turkish troops could enter Syria and force the Kurds from territory close to the border.
Washington rebuffed Turkey’s requests for several years, maintaining a de facto peacekeeping presence along the border near Ras al-Ain, the town at the center of the fighting on Friday. But that changed last week, when Mr. Trump made a sudden decision to withdraw troops — first from that particular area, and later from all of northern Syria.
In Britain, meanwhile, a day after foreign ministers from all 28 European Union member states agreed unanimously to stop selling arms to Turkey — the first time the bloc has reached such a decision about a NATO ally — Britain announced a pause in such ties with Turkey.
Dominic Raab, Britain’s foreign secretary, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that “no further export licenses to Turkey for items which might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted” until the government had conducted a review.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has made clear he will not bow to pressure to halt the offensive. “We will soon secure the region from Manbij to the border with Iraq,” he said on Tuesday during a visit to Azerbaijan, referring to the 230-mile expanse of territory.
Carlotta Gall reported from Ceylanpinar, and Patrick Kingsley from Istanbul. Anton Troianovski contributed reporting from Moscow, and Iliana Magra from London.