The Turkish military operation has reached the fifth day. The US troops are still present in Syria, they are stationed at the towns of Kobane and Manjib where they were deployed in order to assist and advise SDF forces in their fight against Islamic State militants since 2015. However, last week US President Donald Trump made the surprise announcement that he was pulling the US military out of northeast Syria, leaving a key US ally in the fight against IS vulnerable to the Turkish army.
As the Turkish forces advancing, the US troops are preparing to leave. Dozen hundreds of US troops are waiting to leave northern Syria as they are endangered by Turkey’s incursion against Kurdish-led forces.
“We’re preparing, waiting for the order,” a U.S. official close to the troops on the ground told NPR in an email. The situation is “getting untenable. Hundreds of ISIS getting free and we’re stuck between two fighting forces.”
Turkey’s rapid military offensive and problems with detention camps under control of Kurdish forces have put U.S. troops in significant danger. They are in real danger to find themselves in the middle of the clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces, or even in front of Islamic State militants if they manage to flee detention camps. The United States forces now have limited ability to move across northeast Syria without coming into contact with both sides involved in the conflict. There is also the present danger of Turkish proxy fighters, the official said. Turkey has reportedly provided them armored vehicles that allow them to move quickly.
President Trump’s decision to abandon the SDF to a Turkish assault has been widely criticized even by his strongest allies as a betrayal of a US major military partner in Syria which has unleashed to a humanitarian disaster and threatens to sow the seeds of Islamic State’ resurgence amid the chaos.
There are also ongoing reports that gunfire from Turkish-backed forces has landed very close to the U.S. troops in the area. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper would not speculate on whether the gunfire was intentional or accidental.
“We need to sort that out,” Esper said in an interview that aired Sunday morning on CBS’s Face The Nation. “We’ve given them the locations of our forces. But look, I’ve been to war. I know what war’s like. There’s a fog out there and things happen and we want to make sure we don’t put our soldiers in a situation where they could be killed or injured. … It would be irresponsible for me to keep them in that position.”
The situation with U.S. forces in Syria is not totally clear. A U.S. official told that several hundred American troops would be extracted from border areas and that their withdrawal is not as sudden as it appears. So basically, it is not exactly clear how many U.S. troops will be pulled out of Syria.