President Donald Trump recently announced that, in light of an imminent planned military operation by NATO ally Turkey into Kurdish-held areas of neighboring northeastern Syria to establish a “safe zone” buffer, some U.S. military personnel would be withdrawn from the region to avoid being caught in the cross-fire.
Unfortunately, either not all U.S. military personnel were withdrawn or, in a more likely scenario, Turkey ventured out from the defined operational area. The Pentagon has confirmed that Turkish artillery fire came dangerously close to U.S.-held positions near the Kurdish-occupied Syrian city of Kobani, which is centrally located along the Turkish border.
Artillery and mortar fire lands near U.S. outpost
Newsweek first reported that a small contingent of U.S. Special Forces troops were in a hilltop outpost on the outskirts of Kobani that nearly came under direct fire from Turkish artillery and mortar fire, munitions that were ostensibly aimed at Syrian Kurds nearby.
Newsweek reported that U.S. forces briefly considered firing back in self-defense but, considering nobody was injured, no return shots were fired.
Instead, the troops pulled back to other U.S.-held positions in and around the strategically vital border city — further evidence that, despite hyperbolic media reports and hysterics from politicians, the Trump administration has not completely abandoned the Kurds or fully withdrawn from Syria just yet.
An unnamed senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that Turkey has been made well-aware of U.S. positions in the area — “down to the grid” — and know that there will be consequences if U.S. personnel are targeted or caught up in an attack.
For their part, the Turkish Defense Ministry insisted that it did not purposefully target the U.S.-held outpost, but was returning fire against a Kurdish unit that had taken up a position near the outpost.
The Turks further insisted that their artillery and mortar fire did not come closer than 1,000 meters of the outpost. However, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, Navy Captain Brook DeWalt, said in a statement that explosive shells fired by Turkey had hit as close as 100 meters away from the U.S.-held position.
“United States remains opposed to the Turkish military move into Syria and especially objects to Turkish operations outside the Security Mechanism zone and in areas where the Turks know U.S. forces are present,” DeWalt said in the statement. “The U.S. demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action.”
There will be consequences
As noted, U.S. military personnel in the northern Syria region are essentially caught between two U.S. allies that have long fought with each other — the Turks, who are a member of NATO, and the Kurds, who were indispensable in the fight to destroy the Islamic State “caliphate.”
There are few, if any, truly good options for the U.S. in the region, and there is little that can be done to prevent the Turks and Kurds from waging war on each other, as they’ve done off and on for centuries. Hence, President Trump’s decision to move U.S. personnel out of the pre-planned “safe zone” Turkey hopes to establish along the border to guard against Kurdish attacks and potentially resettle some of the millions of Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.
Thankfully, no U.S. service members were injured or killed in what appears to be a mistake by Turkey — or perhaps a ruse by Kurds who were hoping to use U.S. forces as a human shield.