Turkish-backed militants fire at withdrawing US troops in Syrian territory

Though the US withdrawal was announced last week, the troops are still in the process of leaving the territory.

Car bomb targeting military kills 28 in Turkey
Firefighters prepare to extinguish fire after an explosion in Ankara, Turkey February 17, 2016 - Representational image Reuters

A US military unit came under fire in Syrian territory now controlled by Turkey on Sunday. The withdrawing US troops were moving in territory captured by Turkey during the anti-Kurdish Operation Peace Spring when the Turkish-backed militants attacked the convoy. There were no casualties, the US Central Command spokesperson said.

"Via de-confliction line [we received an] information that a column of American troops moving on M4 road toward the Iraqi border, 6 kilometres west of Tell Tamer, came under fire from the territory controlled by pro-Turkish militants of the Free Syrian Army," Maj.Gen. Yuri Borenkov, the head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides in Syria, said.

The US pullout from the region was widely criticised both inside and outside the country. President Donald Trump last month said the US troops would withdraw from north-eastern Syria, eventually letting Turkey to launch an offensive against the Kurds in the region. The US had fought alongside the Kurds against the Islamic State jihadists.

Though the US withdrawal was announced last week, the troops are still in the process of leaving the territory. Reports say that the US is still retaining some of its troops in Syrian territory in order to guard vital installations and places of interest such as oil refineries.

"As part of deconfliction exchange, information has been received from the US side that on November 3 a convoy of American servicemen... was fired upon from the territory controlled by the pro-Turkish Syrian National Army," the Russian defence ministry read.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wants to crush the Kurds in Syria as he sees it as a branch of 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.

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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 Kurdish minorities in all these countries are seeking varying degrees of autonomy.

In the backdrop of mooting critics against his move to abandon Kurds, Trump announced sanctions against Turkey a week into the Turkish offensive against the Kurds. "I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey's economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path," President Donald Trump said, in a dramatic turnaround. Abandoned by the US, the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish militia, turned to the Syrian government for support. This also changed the course of thinking in Washington, eventually forcing Trump's hand.

After the Turkish offensive in the Syrian border zones dominated by Kurds left more than 100 civilians dead, the US Secretary of State has said that President Donald Trump is prepared to take military action against Turkey.