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Pentagon says US forces came under Turkish artillery fire in Syria

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

The Pentagon confirmed Friday that US troops in Syria “came under artillery fire from Turkish positions” and demanded that Turkey halt all operations that could require the US to take “immediate defensive action.”

“US 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, a Pentagon spokesman, 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.”

The Pentagon’s confirmation stands in stark contrast with the Turkish Defense Ministry’s comments on the incident. The ministry issued a statement late Friday night denying that its forces had fired on US troops in Syria and instead said Turkish troops were targeting Kurdish fighters nearby.

The Defense Ministry added that Turkey “did not open fire at the US observation post in any way” and that “all precautions were taken prior to opening fire in order to prevent any harm to the U.S. base.” Turkish forces, however, “ceased fire upon receiving information from the U.S.,” the ministry said, adding, “We firmly reject the claim that U.S. or Coalition forces were fired upon.”

Possibly deliberate

US officials CNN spoke to are divided as to whether the shelling was deliberately aimed at pressuring US forces to leave the area or was a genuine targeting mistake by the Turkish military.

DeWalt said that “the United States remains opposed to the Turkish military move into Syria and especially objects to Turkish operations outside the Security Mechanism zone and in areas where the Turks know US forces are present.”

“The US demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action,” DeWalt said.

CNN reported earlier Friday that Turkish artillery fire had hit several hundred yards from a US special operations unit, according to a US official familiar with the initial assessment.

One US official told CNN the US does not believe the Turkish shelling near US troops posted near Kobani was an accident and that it was likely designed to chase the US from the area. The US has previously announced that it gave Turkey “explicit grid coordinate detail” of US positions in Syria.

There were no American injuries in early reports of the incident, which was first reported by Newsweek.

A senior US defense official said one round hit near an outpost location where US troops were located. The US forces then moved to a nearby local headquarters where a larger group of forces were located.

That official also said that right after the explosion, US jets patrolled the area to try to determine where the launch came from and concluded it most likely was an artillery round. The official said that still needs to be confirmed.

A second US official said told CNN that “we know right now that no US service members have been injured.”

‘This was not a mistake’

A third official said that “there has been no activity since the explosion and we have no indication that there was any intentional fire on US forces.”

A former senior Trump administration official disagreed.

“This was not a mistake,” tweeted Brett McGurk, the former presidential envoy to the global coalition to counter ISIL. “Turkish forces have fired on a declared US military outpost in northern Syria. Turkey knows all of our locations down to the precise grid coordinate as confirmed by” Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley “only two hours ago,” McGurk said.

“With each day this Turkish attack continues, the risks increase for American personnel and our ability to get out safely at all becomes gravely jeopardized,” McGurk continued. “Either [President Donald] Trump changes course rapidly and clearly (ASAP) or else it is necessary to plan a safe exit.”

Earlier on Friday, Milley told reporters at the Pentagon that “the Turkish military is fully aware down to explicit grid coordinate detail of the locations of US forces,” later adding “we retain the right of self-defense.”

At that same news conference, Esper stressed that the US will remain focused on the safety of its men and women in uniform and “as such we are repositioning additional forces in the region to assist with force protection as necessary.”

A US defense official also told CNN earlier Friday that the US has shared a list of “no-strike” locations with the government of Turkey, which goes beyond just where US troops are located and includes Kurdish areas, including Syrian Democratic Forces-controlled prisons holding ISIS prisoners that the US sees as necessary to the fight against the terrorist group.

A resident of Kobani told CNN that he witnessed the artillery shelling.

Alaa Sadoun, a journalist living in Kobani, said the shelling hit a small strategic hill near Kobani called Mashta Nour, where locals believe the US Forces were present. After the strike, a military vehicle left the area, Sadoun said.

US forces are known to have small units stationed at small outposts at varying locations along the Syria-Turkey border.

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