Turkish forces who launched multiple artillery rounds near a U.S. Special Operations outpost in northeastern Syria on Friday have known for months that Americans were there, according to four current and former U.S. officials, raising questions whether Turkey is trying to push American troops farther from the border.
The incident occurred on a hilltop base overlooking the town of Kobane as Turkey continues an operation launched Tuesday against Syrian Kurds, some of whom the United States has partnered with for years in its campaign against the Islamic State. The incursion has focused on an area 60 miles to the west of Kobane, but U.S. officials believe Turkey has long-term aspirations to control a much larger swath of Syria.
The rounds landed about 9 p.m. within a few hundred yards of the base on Mistenur Hill, U.S. officials said. Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement that the U.S. troops “came under artillery fire” but were unharmed and that there was an explosion.
“The U.S. demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action,” DeWalt said.
In a statement issued Friday, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said its troops had not fired on the Americans and were acting “in self-defense” after one of their border posts was attacked.
But the situation, first reported by Newsweek, was more serious than characterized Friday, several officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
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 the U.S. outpost.
“That’s an area weapon,” the officer said, noting its explosive effects. “That’s not something we ever would have done to a partner force.”
The officer said Turkey knew there were Americans on the hill and that it had to be deliberate. The service members vacated the outpost after the incident but returned Saturday, according to a U.S. official and images circulating on social media.
“We had been there for months, and it is the most clearly defined position in that entire area,” the officer said.
Source: The Washington Post