Syria’s military command announced its forces had raised the Syrian flag in the city following what it described as an appeal by people in the area.
The statement, which was read out on Syrian state television, stressed the importance of “safeguarding national sovereignty” and reaffirmed the military’s “determination to crush terrorism and defeat all invaders and occupiers.”
It came moments after the People’s Protection Units (YPG) issued a statement urging President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to retake control of the areas they had withdrawn from, in an effort to protect them against what the group described as a “Turkish invasion.”
The YPG is the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led fighting force that was America’s main partner on the ground in the battle against ISIS.
The National Army, the largest opposition group in Syria, called the announcement by Syria’s military command “propaganda,” saying regime forces were 16 km from Manbij. Spokesman Yousef Hamoud told CNN that US forces still controlled the city.
Last week, President Donald Trump surprised foreign allies by announcing the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Syria, declaring that the war against ISIS had been won.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in disagreement over Trump’s Syria decision, which could leave the Syrian Kurds at risk from both ISIS and Turkey.
Turkey, a NATO member, considers the Syrian Kurds a terrorist group linked to a Kurdish insurgency inside its country. Clashes between the Turkish military and the SDF have intermittently plagued and delayed the final operations against ISIS.
The YPG said Friday that it would be “focusing on the fight against ISIS on all fronts in the east of the Euphrates” following its withdrawal from Manbij.
While the YPG had some small skirmishes with Syrian government forces early on in the war, they allowed the Syrian military to maintain footholds in their areas of control.
CNN’s Bianca Britton wrote from London. CNN’s Kareem Khadder reported from Jerusalem, Eyad Kourdi from Gaziantep and Gul Tuysuz from Istanbul.