The U.S. has sent more troops into the Syrian crossroads town targeted by Turkey where Special Operations Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar and British Sgt. Matt Tonroe were killed last week by a roadside bomb.
Pentagon spokesmen declined to discuss numbers, but an official acknowledged that a "planned reinforcement" had taken place in Manbij in northeastern Syria near the Turkish border.
News videos showed Stryker fighting vehicles and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles flying U.S. flags on patrol in the town, which was retaken from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters by the U.S.-backed, mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after a long siege in 2016.
The Turkish state news agency Anadolu said that as many as 300 additional U.S. troops had arrived in Manbij to bolster the small contingent already there, but the Pentagon official said the Turkish estimate was overblown.
The fall of Manbij set the stage for a drive south by the SDF that resulted last year in its retaking of Raqqa, the self-declared ISIS caliphate.
Army Rangers and Stryker vehicles first moved into Manbij in March 2016 to conduct "deterrence patrols" when Turkish forces and Syrian regime forces separately began converging on the town. The Turkish and Syrian forces later backed off.
However, the SDF's gains are now threatened by Turkish forces and their militia proxies, known as the Free Syrian Army, which was once trained by the U.S. before the effort was abandoned.
For months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to move against Manbij.
In addition, his government announced Monday that he would host a three-way summit on Wednesday in Ankara with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on efforts to end Syria's seven-year-old civil war.
Erdogan has charged that the SDF is dominated by the Kurdish YPG, or People's Protection Units. He has pledged to rid the border area of the group, considered a terrorist organization in Turkey.
His pledges have set up the possibility of a clash between the forces of NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. in Manbij.
The U.S. has sought to ease Turkish concerns and stressed that its only political goal in Syria is the defeat of ISIS.
Last Thursday, Dunbar, 36, of Texas, and Tonroe, 33, of the Parachute Regiment, were killed by an improvised explosive device while on a mission to capture an ISIS operative, according to a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
Dunbar, a 13-year Army veteran with three tours in Iraq and three in Afghanistan, was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Special Operations Command, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The designation of headquarters for Special Ops at Fort Bragg has been used in the past to indicate that the service member was part of Delta Force, the secretive counter-terrorism unit.
Dunbar was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal (3rd Award), the Army Commendation Medal (4th Award), and the Army Achievement Medal (6th Award). His military education included the Military Free Fall and Jumpmaster Course, and the Special Forces Sniper Course.
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that Tonroe's "sacrifice, unflinching commitment and bravery" would never be forgotten, while his commanding officer said his bravery was matched by his compassion.
Last week, President Donald Trump surprised the Pentagon with an ad lib during an infrastructure speech in which he said that U.S. troops would "be coming out of Syria, like very soon."
The position of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been that U.S. troops must remain until ISIS is defeated and a diplomatic solution to the civil war has been put in place.
On TV's Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it would be a blunder for Trump to order U.S. forces out of Syria prematurely.
"It'd be the single worst decision the president could make," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.