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US official visits Syria's Kurdish-held territory, says American forces will remain

US State Department representative William Roebuck walks in Manbij, Syria, March 22, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

A senior US official has paid a visit to northern Syria without the permission of Damascus, saying Washington will keep troops in the territories held by Kurdish militants.  

State Department representative William Roebuck traveled Saturday to the cities of Manbij and Ayn al-Arab locally known as Kobani, both situated in Aleppo Province, as well as the town of Shaddadah in Hasakah Governorate. He was later due to visit Dayr al-Zawr Province which is held by US-backed Kurdish militants.

"We are prepared to stay here, as the president (Donald Trump) has made clear," he said after meeting with militants. 

With the Syrian government focused on crushing foreign-backed militants and Takfiri terrorists, Kurdish militants carved out a de facto autonomous region in the country's north and northeast which was later occupied by US troops.

About 2,000 US troops and a lesser number of troops from France and other allies have been deployed to northeast Syria in territories under the control of Kurdish militants, raising fears that they might be aiming to partition the country. 

With the Syrian army having retaken much of the country, the Kurds sent their representatives early this month to Damascus to discuss the fate of territory under the control of US-backed militants. 

The government now controls more than two-thirds of Syria and is determined to reassert its authority over Kurdish-held territory, which forms the lion's share of the rest.

Roebuck's trip comes in the wake of further planned meetings between the Kurds and the Syrian government which the US has been seeking to topple with the help of its allies and their proxies. 

On Saturday, Kurdish media reported that the US had installed advanced radar systems in its bases at the Ayn al-Arab military airport and the town of Rmelan in Hasakah Province.

Quoting an informed source at the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed coalition of Kurdish militants, the report said the systems are meant to create a no-fly zone in northeastern Syria.

The source also said the US had recently sent additional weapons and ammunition for SDF militants in the southern countryside of Hasakah.

Several US military generals and politicians have secretly visited Syrian territories since a foreign-backed militancy gripped the country in 2011. Among them was hawkish Senator John McCain who died from cancer on Saturday. 

Russia warned Saturday that the US, Britain and France were preparing to conduct a fresh aerial assault on Syria under the pretext of a chemical attack which militants planned to stage with the help of British special forces. 

"We warn the Americans and their allies against taking new reckless steps in Syria," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. 

The development comes as Syria is preparing for an operation to liberate the northwestern Idlib Province, the last major militant stronghold.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said USS The Sullivans armed with 56 cruise missiles had arrived in the Persian Gulf and a US B-1B bomber carrying 24 air-to-surface AGM-158 JASSM cruise missiles had been deployed at Al Udeid airbase in Qatar.

Russia, along with Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah, has been helping the Syrian government crush militants, including Daesh terrorists.

Ambassador Roebuck said on Saturday that the US would continue its push for the withdrawal of Iranian military advisers from Syria. "We remain focused on ensuring the withdrawal of Iranian forces and their proxies as well."

Tehran has been offering military advisory assistance to the Syrian army at the request of the Damascus government. The US and its allies, however, have deployed troops without the authorization the Syrian government or a UN mandate.  

Last week, Syria hit out at Saudi Arabia for giving $100 million to northeast Syria for US "stabilization projects" in areas formerly held by Daesh.

An official source at the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates accused the US of seeking "to fragmentize the region and impose Zionist hegemony on all its countries."

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