American military officials now say Turkey was aware there were United States Special Forces in the area when they opened fire on a base near the Turkey-Syria border late last week, calling into question whether Turkey is strategically targeting U.S. troops.
MSN reports that the United States military now believes Turkey may have been trying to push U.S. forces further into Syria and out of the way of their incursion, paving the way for Turkey to potentially annex more land in northern Syria than what they outlined ahead of their current mission.
“One Army officer who has deployed to northeastern Syria and has knowledge of the situation said that multiple rounds of 155mm fire were launched from Turkey’s side of the border and that they had a ‘bracketing effect’ in which shells landed on both sides” of a United States military outpost on a hilltop in northern Syria, according to MSN.
“The rounds landed about 9 p.m.” just a “few hundred yards” short of the base on Mistenur Hill, the outlet adds.
Turkey claims that they fired on the base in “self-defense,” and that they did not mean to target U.S. troops, accidentally or otherwise. An officer with knowledge of American operations in the area, though, told MSN that “[w]e had been [at the hilltop base] for months, and it is the most clearly defined position in that entire area.”
An American envoy who spoke to MSN was clear that he believes it was “not a mistake.”
Turkey began its incursion into Syria, with the Trump Administration’s blessing, last Tuesday, leaving many in the United States concerned that we are abandoning the Syrian Kurds, who have been steadfast allies in the Middle East for decades — and most recently in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria — and who occupy much of the territory Turkey is targeting.
The United States moved approximately 1,000 troops from the region as part of their agreement with Turkey, but did leave military forces in key roles on the Syrian border, including at the hill base that suffered Turkish fire.
That “bracketing fire” has left some foreign policy experts wondering if the United States may have to move more troops from northern Syria, and whether Turkey has much more complicated designs on the area than they outlined in their initial overture to the Trump Administration.
Acting Trump Administration Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, told CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that the Pentagon is preparing to evacuate American troops from more areas in northern Syria as a result — and to get out of the way of what may turn into a much larger international conflict.
“In the last 24 hours, we learned that [the Turks] likely intend to extend their attack further south than originally planned, and to the west,” Esper said. “We also have learned in the last 24 hours that the … SDF are looking to cut a deal, if you will, with the Syrians and the Russians to counterattack against the Turks in the north.”
“And so we find ourselves, we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper continued. “So I spoke with the president last night, after discussions with the rest of the national security team, and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”
The United States isn’t able to pull out of the region completely, as American troops are still, technically, waging operations against ISIS in the area. Part of the agreement with Turkish forces was that Turkey would take responsibility to handling captured ISIS fighters and would take over some of the responsibility for controling the remnants of ISIS in northern Syria. By late last week, however, it became clear that Turkey was operating with little regard for ISIS in the area of its incursion.