With U.S. military forces set to withdraw entirely from Syria in the near future, the United States' Kurdish allies are caught between the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, against whom they had rebelled, and an offensive by the Turkish government that has vowed to wipe them off the map.
Faced with this choice, the Kurds have reached out to Assad's government and invited his forces into the strategic city of Manbij, CBS News reported.
What's the situation?
The civil war in Syria has been going on for nearly eight years at this point. Rebel forces initially made progress, but support from Russian and Iranian forces eventually gave Assad the upper hand. Now he seems poised to retake his entire country.
Turkey has taken advantage of the instability in Syria to launch a series of attacks against the Kurds. Turkey has had issues with a Kurdish militia known as the PKK inside its own borders. While the U.S. considers the PKK to be a terrorist group, it considers other Kurdish groups to be invaluable allies. Turkey, meanwhile, views all ethnic Kurds as an extension of the PKK.
In October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to "descend on them [the Kurds] with more comprehensive and effective [strength]."
What's happening in Manbij?
This isn't the first time Manbij has appeared in the news. In May, Turkey threatened to take the city of Manbij, a crucial Kurdish position, even though U.S. forces were still inside it. This threatened to cause a major incident between the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey, until Kurdish troops in June offered to leave the city. While this successfully prevented a Turkish attack, Kurdish forces remained in control of the city six months later.
For now, U.S. troops are still in Manbij. Turkey also announced Dec. 21 that it will briefly halt its assault on the Kurds in Syria, but stressed that it was only a temporary postponement. That leaves the Kurds with a limited amount of time to try to ensure their own survival.
"The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," senior Kurdish official Ilham Ahmed said, according to CBS News. "If the Turks' excuse is the (Kurdish militia), they will leave their posts to the government."
Ahmed said that the Kurds have been negotiating with Assad's government and the Russians to hand over control of the city before Turkish forces can attack it.
Syria's military announced on Friday that it had taken control of the city already, but this has not been independently confirmed.