HALAWANJI, Syria – Kurdish and Arab fighters stand on a green hilltop and are separated by a tense front line that separates them from Turkish-backed troops in this part of northern Syria. Behind them, American troops drive up and down the streets. Their goal: Make known their presence, to prevent bursts of fire in a battle.
On the mountain and across a stream are the rival forces: Syrian fighters of the opposition. They have taken positions at an intersection in the village of Halawanji and on rooftops overlooking the hill. Beyond, on another hill, Turkish troops have a base ready to assist their allies when needed.
This front line threatens to ignite at any time, with the forces of two NATO members on opposite sides. The overcrowded terrain has become more flammable as Turkey threatens to break through these lines to attack the nearby Kurdish-Arab city of Manbij and other Kurdish-led cities further east. The presence of Americans represents a major obstacle.
Further tensions, a street bomb in Manbij on late Thursday killed two coalition forces, one American and one British. Kurdish officials accuse Turkey and its allies of perpetrating acts of violence in the city to sow instability, including several recent minor bombings, protests and an assassination attempt on a Kurdish official ̵
Manbij is of strategic importance: the westernmost edge of the Syrian provincial capital, which is located on the border with Turkey and is located in the US-backed Syrian territories. Mixed Kurdish-Arab-Syrian forces liberated Manbij in 2016 from the reign of the Islamic State Group with the help of the US-led coalition. But Kurdish control of the city angered Turkey, which considered its main Kurdish allies, the YPG militias, as "terrorists" tied to Kurdish insurgents on their own soil.
U.S. Troops deployed to the area for the first time about 16 months ago, after Syrian troops supported by Turkey had advanced in areas near Manbij, collapsed as IS militants in a race for control of territories. The operation prevented repeated clashes between the two rival armed forces.
The US-backed Syrian fighters in Halwanji say that their rival-backed rivals are increasingly shooting at them and trying to provoke a fight and create a pretext for a raid. A commander said it happens three times a week. Another said the "provocations" had increased after Turkish troops and their allies successfully conquered another city further west, Afrin, from the YPG. The commanders say that their forces do not respond to the fire.
On Thursday, a commander, Abu Ali Nejm, said US troops had increased their presence "in a noticeable way" in recent days to prevent an outbreak of violence following the capture of Afrin, the threat posed by Turkey and others the recent increase in Turkish troops and their allies.
"They have become part of the front to calm the people of Manbij and the armed forces and raise morale." said Abu Ali, who uses his nom de guerre and is a leading member of the Manbij Military Council, the joint Kurdish-Arab body that leads the US allied forces here.
US Colonel Ryan Dillon of the US-led coalition said there were no new US bases in the area. "Our patrols are moving, they are not static," he said. "The purpose of our forces is to prevent the reappearance of (IS militants) and prevent any invasion by any other group in the region.
Turkey and the United States have held talks to defuse the stalemate with a round set for Friday in Washington, but one solution remains unclear: Turkey claims that YPG power in northern Syria is a threat, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to push back the Kurdish fighters from Manbij to the Iraqi border.
On Friday, Erdogan got angry at French President Emmanuel Macron for having met with Kurdish officials and offered to negotiate, Erdogan said "He would not negotiate with" terrorists "and said brusquely that Macron was" above his head ".
In the meantime, Abu Ali said in Halwanji that the fighters supported by Turkey shot his troops on Thursday with heavy machine guns and small arms His troops did not react according to the instructions and instead reported the incident to the US troops close, he said.
"We inform and they come to the front and see for themselves. They have their own contacts or coordination with the Turkish forces, something they do not need to tell us about," said he added, that if the rival side sees the Americans, they will not fire.
A team of Associated Press reporters arrived shortly after the operation. A convoy of U.S. Troops were seen on the street. Everything was calm and all sides returned to their positions. But as the AP team drove away, new shootings sounded in the distance.
This article was written by Sarah El Deeb of The Associated Press and was legally licensed by the NewsCred Publisher Network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
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