US military denies Syrian claim it has entered Kurdish-controlled town

The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS is denying any changes in the situation in Manbij, Syria, following a Syrian government statement that its forces have entered the city. 

“Despite incorrect information about changes to military forces in the city of Manbij, Syria, [the coalition] has seen no indication that these claims are true," the coalition said in a statement. "We call on everyone to respect the integrity of Manbij and the safety of its citizens."

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Manbij is a Kurdish-controlled town in northern Syria that is patrolled by U.S. forces to ward off a Turkish attack.

Earlier Friday, Syrian government forces said they entered the town and raised the Syrian government flag.

Despite the Syrian government statement, war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the forces are on the outskirts of the town. A Kurdish official similarly told The Associated Press that the government troops were at the perimeter.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, said the facts on the ground in Manbij are uncertain, adding that the Syrian government’s announcement is a “psychological act.”

“I spoke with my friends, with intelligence, etc., about an hour ago and there is nothing certain at this moment,” Erdogan said, according to the AP.

The confusion over Manbij’s status is an early sign of the scramble for control that is likely to take place in the country once U.S. forces withdraw from Syria as President TrumpDonald John Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE has ordered.

U.S. and U.S.-backed forces control about 30 percent of Syria, in the eastern part of the country.

U.S.-backed Kurdish forces retook Manbij from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2016.

Turkey has been demanding the withdrawal of the Kurdish forces from the city and has threatened to attack. Ankara considers them terrorists connected to Kurdish insurgents within Turkey.

In June, the United States and Turkey agreed to a “roadmap” for Manbij that outlines the withdrawal of the Kurds from the town. As part of that, U.S. troops have been patrolling the perimeter in concert with Turkish-backed forces.

But last week, Trump announced that he was ordering the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. U.S. officials have not announced a timeline for the withdrawal.

A senior Kurdish official told The Associated Press the Kurds are working on an agreement with the Russians and the Syrian government that would see the latter take control of the town when U.S. troops leave.

“The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive,” said the official, Ilham Ahmed. “If the Turks’ excuse is the [Kurdish militia], they will leave their posts to the government.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the Syrian government’s Friday statement a "positive step" that could help "stabilize the situation."

The Turkish Defense Ministry said it is “closely” monitoring the situation in Manbij and that the Kurdish forces have no authority to “invite other elements” into the area.