U.S. Special Forces troops stationed in Syria came under artillery fire from Turkey late Friday as Ankara wages an offensive against Kurdish armed groups.
“U.S. troops in the vicinity of Kobani came under artillery fire from Turkish positions at approximately 9 p.m. local Oct. 11,” Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt said in a statement. “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.”
DeWalt added that no troops were injured and that U.S. forces have not withdrawn from Kobani, located in northern Syria.
Turkey defended the strike, saying it was responding to a mortar attack and did not fire on any U.S. outpost.
“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,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“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.”
The incident put into stark relief the tensions between Washington and Ankara over Turkey’s offensive in northeastern Syria, which is aimed at armed Kurdish groups it accuses of being linked to an anti-Turkish insurgency.
The Pentagon maintained it “remains opposed” to the operation, particularly “in areas where the Turks know U.S. forces are present,” and warned Turkey it could respond if troops are threatened.
“The U.S. demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action,” DeWalt said.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutors investigating Giuliani: report House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and top Republican to introduce sanctions bill against Turkey Trump lashes out at 2020 Dems, impeachment inquiry MORE sparked a burgeoning controversy in Washington this week after he announced that U.S. troops would withdraw from northeastern Syria in anticipation of the offensive, removing the chief deterrent to Ankara’s operation. Trump defended the move as fulfilling a campaign promise to end “endless wars.”
“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for … almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” Trump tweeted Monday. “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”
The decision drew bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers saying the withdrawal would abandon the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is led by Kurdish forces and worked closely with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and top Republican to introduce sanctions bill against Turkey US troops in Syria come under Turkish artillery fire Trump to meet Italian president at White House next week MORE (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally and defense hawk, said the decision is a “disaster in the making” that “ensures [an] ISIS comeback” and “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”