U.S. troops at a military outpost in northeast Syria came under artillery fire from Turkish positions, as Ankara’s forces pressed on with their offensive against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The Pentagon on October 11 confirmed earlier reports that said an explosion rocked the site near the city of Kobani, illustrating the risk of U.S. and Turkish forces inadvertently coming into conflict in the tense region.
"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," Navy Captain Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
DeWalt said no troops were injured and that U.S. forces have not been withdrawn from a larger base in Kobani following the incident, although officials said a small number of U.S. forces have vacated the outpost.
Following the incident, the Pentagon stressed the need for Turkey to avoid endangering any of the 1,000 U.S. personnel still inside Syria as Ankara continues its assault on U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters in the region.
"The Turkish military is fully aware -- down to explicit grid coordinate detail -- of the locations of U.S. forces," said U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Everyone is fully aware that we are the United States military. We retain the right of self-defense," Milley said.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said its forces were responding to harassing fire that originated near the U.S. military’s Kobane outpost in Syria, but it said it was taking all steps to ensure that no U.S. post was hit.
"The firing was ceased as a result of the issue being relayed to us by the U.S.," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Brett McGurk, a former special U.S. envoy to the region who resigned in December, claimed the blast was no accident.
“Turkish forces have fired on a declared U.S. military outpost in northern Syria. Turkey knows all of our locations down to the precise grid coordinate as confirmed…only two hours ago. This was not a mistake,” wrote McGurk, who has accused President Donald Trump of betraying Washington’s Syrian Kurd allies.
The White House on October 6 announced a surprise decision by Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from areas along the Syrian border with Turkey, leaving Kurdish-led forces in the region vulnerable to an incursion by the Turkish armed forces.
The United States has about 1,000 troops in Syria, and 50 of them have been pulled out from the border area and redeployed elsewhere in the country "where they aren't in the crossfire," a senior U.S. administration official said on October 7.
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria, have been key U.S. allies in defeating the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in the war-torn country.
However, Ankara brands the militia a terrorist organization because of its links to Kurdish militants who have fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades.
With Ankara's forces pushing deeper into Syrian territory against Syrian Kurdish fighters and international calls mounting for Turkey to end the three-day operation, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on October 11 that he and other U.S. officials had "urged them to stop this incursion," adding that several other NATO members had done the same.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned that new sanctions were being prepared and would be imposed on Ankara should Turkey overstep in Syria following a warning by Trump that it should conduct its assault in a "humane" manner.
A spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying, "No one should doubt that Turkey will have a tit-for-tat response to possible U.S. sanctions within the framework of full reciprocity."
Meanwhile, Russia on October 11 blocked a U.S.-drafted UN Security Council statement calling on Turkey to halt the military offensive. China supported Moscow's effort to block the statement, a diplomat told AFP.
An initial version of the text had only called for Ankara to return to diplomacy for security reasons. But the final language was hardened to demand a stop to Ankara's operation following arguments made by Security Council members over the past 24 hours.