Russia-backed Syrian army sweeps in after U.S. announces abrupt exit

BEIRUT/ANKARA — Russia-backed Syrian forces took rapid advantage of an abrupt U.S. retreat from Syria on Monday, deploying deep inside Kurdish-held territory south of the Turkish frontier less than 24 hours after Washington announced a full withdrawal.

Washington’s Kurdish former allies said they invited in the government troops as an emergency step to help fend off an assault by Turkey, launched last week after President Donald Trump moved his troops aside in what the Kurds call a betrayal.

Washington’s decision to abandon a policy it had pursued for five years gives Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin free hands to shape the battlefield of the world’s deadliest ongoing war.

In particular, the Syrian army deployment is a victory for President Bashar al-Assad and his most powerful ally Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of the country that had been beyond their grasp.