Syrian forces have entered the strategic border town of Kobani, blocking a path for the Turkish military to establish a “safe zone” free of Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The seizure of Kobani by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad also pointed to a dramatic shift in northeastern Syria. The town was where the US military and Kurdish fighters first united to defeat the Islamic State group four years ago.
The convoys of government forces drove into Kobani after dark on Wednesday night, a resident said.
Syria’s state-run media confirmed its troops entered the town.
Syria’s presence in Kobani puts a limit on Turkish ambitions in its offensive. The town lies between a Turkish-controlled enclave farther west and smaller areas to the east that Turkey seized in the past week.
Turkey had talked of creating a 30km (19 miles) deep “safe zone”, driving out Kurdish fighters from the border region.
Turkish forces had shelled Kobani in recent days as part of the offensive but had not advanced ground troops on it.
The IS extremists were finally driven out in early 2015 in their first major defeat, and an alliance was cemented that would eventually bring down the group’s “caliphate” in Syria.
Now the Kurdish authority has agreed to allow Damascus to deploy its military in the town and other parts of northeast Syria to protect them from Turkey’s offensive launched after US President Donald Trump pulled back American troops working with the Kurds.
On Wednesday, the US-led coalition said it had vacated a cement factory south of Kobani, which had served as a coordination centre with the Kurdish-led forces. Coalition spokesman Col Myles Caggins said that after troops left the base, two US fighter jets launched pre-planned airstrikes to destroy ammunition that was left behind.
The coalition also said its forces had left Raqqa, the former capital of the Islamic State that was liberated in 2017, and Tabqa, a town to the west.
“Coalition forces continue a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria,” Col Caggins tweeted.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump imposed limited economic sanctions on Turkey. The move came five days after Mr Trump threatened sanctions in a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he also said that if Turkey invaded Syria Mr Erdogan would be remembered as a “devil”.
Mr Trump told Mr Erdogan he would not want to be responsible for “slaughtering thousands of people”, and warned, “don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”
Mr Erdogan defied the sanctions, saying the only way its military offensive would end was if Syrian Kurdish fighters leave a designated border area.
Mr Erdogan also said he had “no problem” accepting an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia to discuss Syria. But he threw into doubt a planned November 13 meeting with Mr Trump, citing anger over the sanctions that Washington imposed on its NATO ally.