US and Russian troops patrol neighboring villages in Syria

US vehicles patrol near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on Sunday - AFP or licensors

Russian and US troops are patrolling neighbouring Syrian villages as the two countries move to defuse tensions between rival factions fighting the Islamic State in the Iraq and the Levant (Isil). 

In what is the closest encounter between the two superpowers in Syria to date, both sides have sent troops into the area around the northern town of Manbij to in a bid to halt fighting between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkish troops and allied rebel groups.

The Manbij Military Council, an SDF-affiliated group, said on Monday that the town had been placed under the protection of the US-backed coalition following several days of clashes with Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army. 

Fighters of the Manbij Military Council, part of the SDF, head to the front lines on Friday - Credit: Delil Souleiman/AFP

"They intensified their patrols and brought in armoured vehicles," Sharfan Darwish, a spokesman for the Manbij Military Council said.

Several US armoured vehicles flying the stars and stripes were seen patrolling Manbij and the surrounding countryside over the weekend, in what the Pentagon called an effort to “reassure” allies.

“Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve has taken this deliberate action to reassure Coalition members & partner forces, deter aggression and keep focus on defeating Isil,” Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, said on Twitter.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff - Credit: Sergey Bobylev/Pool photo via AP

The Manbij military council earlier asked Russian and Syrian troops to form a buffer zone between Manbij and Turkish forces in al-Bab, 25 miles to the southwest.  

Col Gen Sergei Rudskoi, a spokesman for the Russian general staff, confirmed on Friday that its commanders in Syria had negotiated an agreement for troops loyal to Damascus to take over several Kurdish controlled villages.

Mr Darwish said a "symbolic" shipment of Russian humanitarian aid had been delivered to the Manbij authorities on Friday through a newly opened corridor from the Syrian government-held territory to the west.

The moves puts US and Russian forces in their closest proximity to one another in the war in Syria to date. 

It is unclear whether the two country’s troops will come face to face with each other or if their moves have been coordinated.

A Turkish tank in battle in northern Syria in October 2016 - Credit: Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP

The SDF captured Manbij from Isil last August and is currently spear-heading a US-backed offensive against Raqqa, the terror-group’s de facto capital in Syria.

Turkey considers the YPG, the Kurdish group that dominates the SDF, an extension of a Kurdish insurgency that operates inside Turkey.

It has launched its own offensive to clear both Isil and Kurdish groups from border areas.

The SDF said on Monday that it had cut the main road between Raqqa and the eastern city Deir el-Zour, which is partially held by Isil.

Its troops, which are bolstered by 500 US special forces advisors, have advanced to within five miles of the northern edge of the city.  

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