Videos surfaced on Twitter in the past week that appear to show Russian mercenaries contracted to the Syrian government via the paramilitary Wagner Group assuming control of an abandoned American installation in Northern Syria. American troops left the base willingly after President Trump issued an order to withdraw from the region, providing Turkey with the opportunity to launch a new offensive against the Kurds, which in turn, led to the Kurds calling for assistance from Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime with requisite Russian support.

The Manbij camp that was formerly under U.S. control appears to be the installation shown in the footage. The man on camera has been identified as Oleg Blokhin. Blokhin is a Russian war correspondent known to be embedded with Wagner Group paramilitary contractors out of Russia. The footage captured by Blokhin clearly shows that a fair amount of gear was left behind as the American troops made their hasty exit. In one video, Blokhin can be seen raising and lowering a towed checkpoint barrier that was left behind. In another, equipment under camouflage netting can be seen in the background.

 President Trump’s controversial decision to pull out of a coalition with Syrian Democratic Forces in Northern Syria has led to bipartisan criticism, with many concerned that the decision bolstered Russian and Syrian positions in the region. Both Russia and Syria have faced repeated allegations of war crimes against Syrian citizens in the nation’s ongoing civil war, particularly over their alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. President Donald Trump has ordered retaliatory missile strikes against Syrian targets twice during his presidency over these very allegations.  Others have voiced concerns that the power vacuum created by new fighting in Northern Syria will allow ISIS the time and space it needs to mount a resurgence.

President Trump and his supporters, however, contend that the conflict between the Kurds and the Turks has been going on for centuries and is best left to diplomatic channels. The White House has since declared that it will issue sanctions on Turkey over their offensive against the Kurds, and Trump attempted to send Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Turkish president Recep Erdogan to discuss a cease fire, though the meeting was refused by Erdogan, who says he will only deal directly with Trump.

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