WASHINGTON - Russian troops have occupied positions in Syria that just days ago had been U.S. outposts, filling the vacuum left when President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of American forces from the war-torn country, according to the Russian military and a U.S. official.
The move illustrates how quickly the ground has shifted in Syria since Trump's call last week with Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president told Trump that his forces planned to invade Turkey to attack Kurdish forces there that it considers terrorists. Trump announced after the call that U.S. forces would withdraw from the region. The Kurds, facing an onslaught from Turkey, have swung their allegiance from the United States to the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad and his Russian patron.
"The move shows that the U.S. is retrenching in Syria and that the Pentagon knows that the U.S. military can no longer provide the support needed to keep almost one-third of Syria out of Russia and Assad's reach," said Nicholas Heras, an expert on Syria and the fight against ISIS at the Center for a New American Security. "This is the beginning of the drawdown of America's expansive goals in Syria."
More: Pentagon to withdraw 1,000 troops from Syria within weeks, pulling back in fight against ISIS
The Kurds had formed the backbone of the ground force relied on by the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against the Islamic State since 2014. As late as last Friday, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that U.S. and Kurdish forces in the Syrian Democratic Forces were conducting joint operations.
By Tuesday, U.S. forces abandoned their outpost in Manbij, a strategic town on the border between Turkey and Syria that had been a crossing point for Islamic militants who poured into Syria and helped it establish its so-called caliphate. American commanders consulted with Russians to ensure the safe passage of U.S. troops from Manbij, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Trump has ordered virtually all of the 1,000 remaining U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria, where they had been conducting daily operations against ISIS militants.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russian troops take over key U.S. outpost in Syria after withdrawal