Turkey masses troops near Kurdish-held town in northern Syria

Turkey is massing troops near a town in northern Syria held by a Kurdish-led force backed by the US, a war monitor and Turkish media have said.

The buildup comes despite Ankara saying it would delay a promised offensive in eastern Syria in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise announcement on Wednesday to withdraw US troops from the country, which it welcomed.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has vowed to dislodge the Kurdish militia, which Ankara sees as an extension of the insurgency within its borders. The US has worked with the militia to drive Islamic State out of Syria since 2014, and the alliance had soured relations between Ankara and Washington.

A deal reached in June according to which US and Turkish troops would patrol the area around the Syrian town of Manbij allayed some of Turkey’s fears, but Ankara says the US and the Kurdish militia failed to live up to their end of the deal and that it will launch an offensive against it. Turkey already has troops in north-western Syria and has backed Syrian fighters there clearing towns and villages of Isis militants and Kurdish fighters.

The Turkish IHA news agency reported on Sunday that a Turkish commando unit had been sent into Syria overnight.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the reinforcements were sent to the Manbij frontline, where US troops have been based. It said 50 vehicles had crossed into Syria carrying troops and equipment.

The spokesman for the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council, Sharfan Darwish, said Turkish reinforcements had arrived in the area. “We are taking necessary measures to defend ourselves if we are attacked,” he said.

A spokesman for the Turkey-backed Syrian opposition group said the continued buildup of Turkish and allied forces was to prevent Syrian government troops from taking advantage of the tension in the area to seize territory.

Youssef Hammoud accused the Kurdish militia of reaching out to the Syrian government to replace US troops if they withdraw.

Darwish dismissed the claims as untrue, calling them “old accusations” from the rival Syrian groups.