Less than a week since the White House announced U.S. troops would withdraw from border Turkish-Syrian border areas to make way for an invasion by Turkey, reports are coming in that U.S. special forces have been caught up in artillery fire on Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani. According to a senior Pentagon official, Turkey is well aware of the location of U.S. troops, including the area they just attacked.
Newsweek reported earlier today that a small number of troops, somewhere south of 100, were caught up in the attack. No word on casualties, but hundreds of people, including civilians, have been killed in Syria since the Turkish invasion began.
Newsweek has learned through both an Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and senior Pentagon official that Special Forces operating on Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces conducting their so-called “Operation Peace Spring” against Kurdish fighters backed by the U.S. but considered terrorist organizations by Turkey.
The senior Pentagon official said that Turkish forces should be aware of U.S. positions “down to the grid.” The official could not specify the exact number of personnel present, but indicated they were “small numbers below company level,” so somewhere between 15 and 100 troops.
The Turks, in their eagerness to start their offensive, allowed no time for the Kurds to move away from the border and very little time for U.S. forces to withdraw. But the fact they were aware of the presence of U.S. forces before the attack means they either demonstrated military incompetence by attacking randomly or they willfully hit U.S. forces. This could change the calculus of our stance on the conflict.
If one U.S. troop was injured or killed…
I’ve done everything I can to find justification for the President’s move, which was apparently prompted by a demand coming from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the end, I bought into the notion that this is an ancient and ongoing regional conflict that does not demand our involvement. There is no need for American troops to be put in harm’s way for the sake of being human shields for the Turks. But if it is learned that the Turks injured or killed a single U.S. troop, then the entire narrative changes.
In such a scenario, we must facilitate the removal of Turkey from NATO and treat them like an enemy. That would mean closing down our bases in Turkey and pushing them under the wing of Russia, both of which would be disastrous moves for the region and for our interests there. But nobody can attack U.S. troops that were being withdrawn without repercussions, and at this point those repercussions should be extremely serious.
Lest we forget, this move was supposed to prevent our forces from being harmed. But they weren’t being harmed before the move; the handful of troops stationed with the Kurds were not involved in combat, acting as advisers and facilitators in efforts against the Islamic State. These reports would indicate the move by the White House took our troops from a situation of relative safety to one that is much more dangerous.
I’ll hold off on issuing a full condemnation of the attack and our stance on Turkey until more is known, but this doesn’t look good. Turkey is demonstrating poor judgment, acting like rabid dogs instead of an ally in the war against terror.
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