The United States military is getting drawn into a deepening struggle for control over areas liberated from Isis that risks prolonging American involvement in wars in Syria and Iraq long after the militants are defeated.
In their first diversion from the task of fighting Isis (Islamic State) since the US military's involvement began in 2014, US troops dispatched to Syria have headed in recent days to the northern town of Manbij, 135km northwest of the extremists' capital, Raqqa, to protect their Kurdish and Arab allies against a threatened assault by other US allies in a Turkish backed force.
Russian troops have also shown up in Manbij under a separate deal that was negotiated without the input of the US, according to US officials.
Under the deal, Syrian troops are to be deployed in the area, also in some form of peacekeeping role, setting up what is effectively a scramble by the armies of four nations to carve up a collection of mostly empty villages in a remote corner of Syria.
The latest twist in Syria's ever more complicated war points to one of the many risks of a US strategy that has prioritised the military defeat of the Isis at the expense of political solutions to the broader conflicts fuelling instability in the wider region, analysts say.
Other wars are brewing elsewhere across the vast areas freed so far from Isis control, in Iraq as well as Syria. In recent days, the US has been mediating between rival Kurdish factions in Iraq, both of them indirectly allied to the US in the fight against Isis, after clashes erupted around the northwestern town of Snune, freed from Isis more than two years ago.
Manbij is the first instance, however, in which US troops have become directly involved in keeping rival factions apart.
The Pentagon has described their mission as one to "reassure and deter" local parties from attacking one another, a new role for the US military in the fight against Isis.
The deployment is "fraught with risk", said Robert Ford, who served as the Obama Administration's last ambassador to Syria until 2014. He is now with the Washington-based Middle East Institute and teaches at Yale University.
"That's not a small policy change. It is a huge policy change," he said. "We have never in our Syrian policy ever put US personnel in between warring Syrian factions or to maintain a local ceasefire."