US Special Forces troops stationed in northern Syria were targeted with artillery fire by Turkish positions in the area on Friday. There were no casualties and the American troops did not return fire. The flare-up, believed to be accidental, happened during Turkey's renewed offensive against the Syrian Kurdish positions in North Syria following a widely criticised policy shift by President Donald Trump.
The Turkish shelling was so heavy that the US troops considered firing back in self-defense, a senior Pentagon official said, according to Newsweek. "US troops in the vicinity of Kobani came under artillery fire from Turkish positions at approximately 9 p.m. local Oct. 11 ... The explosion occurred....in an area known by the Turks to have US forces present," the Pentagon said in a statement.
Meanwhile Turkey denied it targeted the US troops in the area, adding that the strike was in response to mortar fire from Kurdish militias. The Turkish Defense Ministry further clarified that it had taken precautions to avoid hitting US soldiers while launching a counter offensive against the Kurdish militia, which it termed as "terrorists".
What's the latest Syrian crisis?
The current crisis stems from Turkey's renewed push to throw Kurdish fighters along the Syrian-Turkish border and establish a "safe zone" in the region. Turkey is opposed to the Kurdish consolidation in the north and east of Syria as it has its own sizeable Kurdish minority. Besides Turkey, countries like Syria, Iraq and Iran too have large Kurdish minorities. The problem is complex as the Kuridh minorities in all these countries are seeking varying degrees of autonomy.
Kurdish YPG militia was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Syrian war as they could carve out a territory in the northeast of the country even as Bashar al Assad was busy fighting off the mainly Sunni Arab rebellion against his regime.
The United States also joined with the YPG militia in its fight against the Islamic State.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wants to crush the Kurdish Syria as he sees it as a branch of the The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which represents nearly 20 percent of Kurds inside Turkey. The PKK had taken up arms against Ankara in the 1980s, triggering a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people so far.
What happened on Friday?
It has been reported that the US Special Forces were operating on Mashtenour outlying Kobani when they were targeted with artillery fire. Ankara has now clarified that the Turkish forces in the region were firing at Kurdish militia in the region, which is backed by the US. The US said 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.
But Turkey denied it targeted US troops. "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," Turkish defense ministry said.
The US cautioned Turkey against acts that triggers counter offensive. "The U.S. demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action," the Pentagon said.