Contingent of U.S. Special Forces is believed to have been caught up in Turkish shelling against U.S-backed Kurdish positions in northern Syria, days after President Donald Trump told his Turkish counterpart he would withdraw U.S.
Newsweek has learned through both an Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and senior Pentagon official that Special Forces operating on Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces conducting their so-called “Operation Peace Spring” against Kurdish fighters backed by the U.S. but considered terrorist organizations by Turkey.
The senior Pentagon official said that Turkish forces should be aware of U.S. positions “down to the grid.” The official could not specify the exact number of personnel present, but indicated they were “small numbers below company level,” so somewhere between 15 and 100 troops.
The official said shelling was so heavy that the U.S. personnel were exfiltrated once the attack had ceased. Newsweek has reached out to the Pentagon for comment on the situation.
A US soldier sits atop an armoured vehicle during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on October 6, 2019. – US forces in Syria started pulling back today from Turkish border areas, opening the way for Ankara’s threatened military invasion and heightening fears of a jihadist resurgence.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had long warned he would storm the border to establish a so-called “safe zone” and, after the White House announced Sunday that U.S. troops would stand aside, he launched the operation earlier this week.
In its Sunday statement, the White House had said that U.S. troops “will no longer be in the immediate area” as Turkey and allied Syrian rebels commenced their assault. During Friday’s press conference, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley said that U.S. personnel were “still co-located” save for “two small outposts” near the border with Turkey. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said 50 Special Forces personnel had been repositioned ahead of the Turkish and allied Syrian rebel assault.
The U.S. first partnered with the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in 2015 to battle the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) as the country shifted its support away from an increasingly Islamist opposition seeking the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The group proved effective in beating back the jihadis, but the U.S.’ decision was opposed by Turkey, a NATO member that has faced off with a decades-long insurgency by Kurdish separatists.
Turkey remains the last major sponsor of the Syrian opposition, made up largely of members of the country’s Syrian Arab majority, and has mobilized up to a thousand fighters from these forces, along with hundreds of its own troops, in order to seize territory currently administered by a majority-Kurdish autonomous administration that spans the country’s north and east. This self-governing entity has not been recognized by Ankara nor the central government in Damascus, which has secured much of the rest of the country’s territory with the help of Russia, Iran and allied militias.
This is a developing story. More information will be added as it becomes available.