Turkey Leaks Secret Locations of U.S. Troops in Syria
Ankara has long been angered by the alliance between Washington and Kurdish factions. But a new report exposing secret American bases is a dangerous way to strike back.
ISTANBUL—In the latest display of Turkish anger at U.S. policy in Syria, the state news agency has divulged the locations of 10 U.S. military bases and outposts in northern Syria where the U.S. is leading an operation to destroy the so-called Islamic State in its self-styled capital of Raqqa.
The list published by the Anadolu news agency points to a U.S. presence from one end to the other of the Kurdish self-administration region—a distance of more than 200 miles. The Anadolu news agency even listed the number of U.S. troops in several locations and in two instances stipulated the presence of French special forces.
Turkey has openly criticized the Trump administration—and the Obama administration before it—for relying in the battle against ISIS on a militia led by Kurds affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. A separatist movement now at war with Turkey, the PKK has been listed by the U.S., EU, and Turkey as a terror organization.
To avoid the appearance of allying with such a group, the U.S. military set up the Syrian Democratic Forces, which have a large component of Arab recruits. But they are led by officers from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian affiliate of the PKK.
Although Turkey’s powerful president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, regularly vents his anger at the U.S., it is still highly unusual for a NATO ally to reveal details of a U.S. military deployment during active operations in a war zone. But the U.S. operation in Syria is in many respects an unusual case. Not only is the United States acting against the express wishes of NATO ally Turkey, which says its national security is directly endangered, it’s also operating without the permission of the Assad regime.
After a meeting Monday evening, Turkey’s National Security Council charged that weapons provided to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia had come into the possession of the PKK. “This shows that both are the same organization,” it said, adding that other countries were using a “double standard” for terror groups, an apparent reference to the U.S. alliance with the YPG militia.
The U.S. has denied repeatedly that arms it is supplying to the Kurdish fighters have seeped into the PKK war against the Turkish state, and the Turkish government did not back up its allegations with evidence.
Two U.S. bases in Syria—in Rmeilan, in northern Hasaka province, and Kharab Ishq, near Kobani in Aleppo province—already were well-known before Anadolu published them. Anadolu said Rmeilan, in Syria’s oil-producing district, was set up in November 2016, and is big enough to handle transport aircraft, while the base south of Kobani, set up in March 2016, is used only by military helicopters.
The eight outposts, often hidden behind signs warning of a “prohibited area,” are being used both for active military operations, such as shelling into the city of Raqqa, and for desk jobs such as training and operational planning, the report said.
It claimed bases used for military operations house artillery batteries with high maneuverability, multi-barrel rocket launchers, various mobile equipment for intelligence, and armored vehicles for general patrols and security.
In Hasaka province, the U.S. has three outposts, all used to train Kurdish militia members, according to Turkish security officials. Anadolu even gave the number of U.S. Special Forces troops it believed were stationed at two of the three outposts.
There are three U.S. military outposts in Syria’s Raqqa province, Anadolu said. French special forces troops are stationed at two of them. It said one of the locations serves as a communication center for the International Coalition fighting ISIS and is also used to disrupt ISIS communications.
In Manbij, which the Kurdish YPG militia captured last August, the U.S. now has two outposts. The U.S. sends out patrols, the agency noted acerbically, to protect the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces from Syrian rebels operating out of the Turkish controlled part of Syria known as the Jarablus pocket.
Turkish security officials confirmed the accuracy of the Anadolu list to The Daily Beast.
The publication is certain to spark ire in the U.S. military, which is leading the operation against ISIS.
Spokesmen for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, and for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, asked The Daily Beast not to publish the detailed information reported by Anadolu.
“The discussion of specific troop numbers and locations would provide sensitive tactical information to the enemy which could endanger Coalition and partner forces,” wrote Col. Joe Scrocca, coalition director of public affairs.
“Publishing this type of information would be professionally irresponsible and we respectively [sic] request that you refrain from disseminating any information that would put Coalition lives in jeopardy.”
Col. John Thomas, spokesman at the Central Command, also asked The Daily Beast to refrain from publishing details of coalition operations, on the grounds it would be “potentially harmful to the lives of those involved.”
In fact, Anadolu had already published the information Monday on its Turkish language service and then issued it on its English language services Tuesday. In addition, some of the locations on the Anadolu list were already known in public. The Iranian Tasnim news agency, for example, last November published the names of two bases and two outposts, and the Jusour Center, a Syrian think tank, published the locations of two additional outposts in April.
—with additional reporting by special correspondent Duygu Guvenc from Ankara.