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Hundreds of Kurdish fighters withdrew from Manbij near the border with Turkey on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Defense Ministry, days after the Kurds appealed to Damascus for support against a threatened Turkish offensive.
“A convoy of units of Kurdish fighters comprised of more than 30 vehicles left the region of Manbij, heading towards the eastern bank of the Euphrates River,” the ministry said online.
“The information [we have] indicates that nearly 400 Kurdish fighters have left Manbij so far.”
The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish militia in Syria, last week invited government forces to deploy to the key city following a surprise announcement that US troops were withdrawing from the country.
The YPG seized Manbij from ISIS in 2016 and US forces have continued to support the Kurdish fighters in their battle against the jihadists.
President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last month of a rapid American withdrawal has left Kurdish fighters exposed to a planned military operation against them by Turkey.
The YPG is the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurdish alliance which in recent months has been battling ISIS near the Iraqi border.
The Syrian Defense Ministry released a video showing a long convoy of 4×4 vehicles and white pickups carrying fighters and flying the YPG flag.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said the fighters who withdrew from Manbij on Wednesday were not YPG fighters but belonged to other militias within the SDF.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse