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Turkey masses troops near Kurdish-held Syrian town

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 23, 2018

This photo released on the Facebook page of the Military Council of Manbij City shows U.S. troops based around the Syrian town of Manbij speaking with residents, in northern Syria, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. (Associated Press)
This photo released on the Facebook page of the Military Council of Manbij City shows U.S. troops based around the Syrian town of Manbij speaking with residents, in northern Syria, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. (Associated Press)
By Sarah El Deeb and Zeynep Bilginsoy Associated Press

BEIRUT – Turkey is massing troops near a town in northern Syria held by a U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led force, a war monitor said as Turkish media reported Sunday new reinforcements crossing the borders.

The Turkish buildup comes even though Turkey said it would delay a promised offensive in eastern Syria in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision this week to withdraw U.S. troops.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had a “long and productive” call with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which they discussed “the slow & highly coordinated” pullout of U.S. troops from the area. This is the two leaders’ second phone conversation in 10 days. U.S. military officials are scrambling to come up with a schedule for the withdrawal of an estimated 2,000 troops.

A statement from the Turkish presidency said the two leaders agreed to coordinate militarily and diplomatically to ensure the U.S. pullout from Syria does not lead to an “authority vacuum.”

Trump’s decision, announced last week after a call with Erdogan, surprised his allies and own experts, sparking the resignation of two of his top aides. He had asked for an immediate withdrawal, but experts convinced him that they needed time to work out a timetable.

The Turkish IHA news agency reported that a convoy of Turkish troops – a commando unit – had been sent into Syria overnight.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the reinforcements were sent to the front line with Manbij, where U.S. troops have been based. The Observatory said 50 vehicles crossed into Syria – carrying troops and equipment.

A Turkish military official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, said the military reinforcements were dispatched to the areas administered by Turkey in northern Syria, without elaborating.

The spokesman for the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council, Sharfan Darwish, said Turkish reinforcements have arrived in the area. “We are taking necessary measures to defend ourselves if we are attacked,” he said without elaborating.

Also Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he “deeply regrets” Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and warned it could have dangerous consequences.

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