A contingent of U.S. Special Forces has been caught up in Turkish shelling against Kurdish positions in northern Syria, Newsweek reported citing officials.
According to the report, the incident happened on Mashtenour hill in the Kurd-majority city of Kobani when it fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces conducting military offensive, codenamed Operation Peace Spring, against Kurdish fighters.
The shelling was so heavy that the U.S. personnel considered firing back in self-defense, the report cited a senior Pentagon official as saying. The official could not specify the exact number of personnel present, but indicated they were “small numbers below company level”. No injuries have been reported in the incident.
In the Newsweek report, the official was quoted as saying that Turkish forces should be aware of U.S. positions “down to the grid.”
Turkey’s Ministry of National Defence has released a statement on the incident:
“Earlier today, Turkish border outposts south of Suruç came under Dochka and mortar fire from the hills located approximately 1,000 meters southwest of a U.S. observation post. In self-defense, reciprocal fire was opened on the terrorist positions of the attack. Turkey did not open fire at the U.S. observation post in any way. All precautions were taken prior to opening fire in order to prevent any harm to the U.S. base. As a precaution, we ceased fire upon receiving information from the U.S. We firmly reject the claim that U.S. or Coalition forces were fired upon.”
Pentagon released a statement attributed to Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt, Director, Defense Press Operations:
“U.S. troops in the vicinity of Kobani came under artillery fire from Turkish positions at approximately 9 p.m. local Oct. 11.”
“The explosion occurred within a few hundred meters of a location outside the Security Mechanism zone and in an area known by the Turks to have U.S. forces present.”
“All U.S. troops are accounted for with no injuries.”
“U.S. Forces have not withdrawn from Kobani.”
“The 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.”
“The U.S. demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action.”
It is currently not known how the US will respond to the incident.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. Department of Defense Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan R. Hoffman released a statement as follows:
“Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar spoke by phone where they discussed the situation in northeast Syria. Secretary Esper made it clear that the United States opposes Turkey’s uncoordinated actions as they place at risk the progress made by the Defeat-ISIS Coalition.”
“While the Secretary reaffirmed we value our strategic bilateral relationship, this incursion risks serious consequences for Turkey. The Secretary also reiterated his strong concern that, despite U.S. force protection measures, Turkey’s actions could harm U.S. personnel in Syria.”
“As part of the call, Secretary Esper strongly encouraged Turkey to discontinue actions in northeastern Syria in order to increase the possibility that the United States, Turkey and our partners could find a common way to deescalate the situation before it becomes irreparable.”
On Thursday, Trump tweeted that he had “one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!
Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring
Turkey has launched the long-planned military operation, codenamed Operation Peace Spring, into northeastern Syria on Wednesday.
The military offensive is being conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Islamic State “to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border and to bring peace to the area”, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought the Turkish state for more than three decades. But the US backs the YPG and credits the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for helping defeat ISIS in Syria.
The Turkish offensive came just days after Donald Trump’s announcement that US troops would withdraw from the area, where thousands of captured ISIS fighters and their families are held by Kurdish forces. Trump’s decision to pull back US troops from Syria leaving the SDF vulnerable to attack has been widely criticized by allies and even some of the president’s staunchest Republican allies.