This isn’t even the grimmest news out of northern Syria today. Visit any news site this afternoon and you’re apt to find reports of a mass jailbreak at a prison where hundreds of ISIS sympathizers were detained or read accounts of Turkish-backed “militias” committing atrocities against captured Kurds. One particularly grisly story involves a Kurdish political leader named Hevrin Khalef. I’ll let you google her to find out what happened, but be warned before you click that there may be graphic photos at the link.
Newsweek reported on Friday that Turkish artillery shells had landed suspiciously close to a group of U.S. troops stationed near the town of Kobane. Why suspicious? Because, as a U.S. “ally,” Turkey had been told exactly where American troops are based in northern Syria. We want to avoid friendly-fire incidents so we give them our positions and tell them to steer clear.
So how’d a bunch of Turkish shells end up “bracketing” the American contingent in Kobane?
One Army officer who has deployed to northeastern Syria and has knowledge of the situation said that multiple rounds of 155 mm fire were launched from Turkey’s side of the border and that they had a “bracketing effect” in which shells landed on both sides of the U.S. outpost.
“That’s an area weapon,” the officer said, noting its explosive effects. “That’s not something we ever would have done to a partner force.”
The officer said Turkey knew there were Americans on the hill and that it had to be deliberate. The service members vacated the outpost after the incident but returned Saturday, according to a U.S. official and images circulating on social media.
“We had been there for months, and it is the most clearly defined position in that entire area,” the officer said.
The Americans stationed at the outpost surely would have recognized that they were being targeted, said Ruben Gallego, an Iraq war vet turned Democratic member of Congress. A U.S. defense official asked about the incident told WaPo that the Turkish shelling was certainly “reckless” and possibly intentional, and acknowledged that they “obviously” were told by the Pentagon beforehand that American soldiers were there. That’s not the only pressure the Turks are putting on U.S. troops in the region either:
U.S. troops pulled out from their base in the town [of Ain Issa], as Turkish-backed Syrian rebels consolidated their hold over a vital highway nearby, cutting the main U.S. supply route into Syria and isolating troops based further west…
Turkish-backed rebels have set up checkpoints on the highway near Ain Issa, cutting off the U.S. troops in bases to the west, in the Syrian cities of Manbij and Kobane. Those troops came under Turkish artillery fire Friday night in what some U.S. soldiers suspect was a deliberate attempt to drive them away from the bulk of the U.S. forces farther east, Kurdish and U.S. officials said.
So that explains the shelling. The Turks were deliberately trying to divide U.S. forces, increasing the pressure on Trump to flee the area before any Americans end up “accidentally” isolated and/or killed. Looks like the tactic worked: SecDef Mark Esper announced this morning that all 1,000 American troops based in northern Syria will be withdrawing, leaving the Turks free to pursue their goal of massacring the Kurds without having to worry about any U.S. soldiers wandering into the line of fire.
WATCH: .@EsperDoD on the planned evacuation of U.S. troopers in northern Syria.
"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria." pic.twitter.com/2Ma0XmypfP
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) October 13, 2019
According to one Kurdish official, the ISIS flag has already been raised in the countryside between Ain Issa and the Turkish border. Jake Tapper puts it bluntly:
US official tells @npwcnn that the campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria is “over for now” and that ISIS “has a second lease on life with nearly 100,000 [people] who will re-join their jihad.”
In this official’s opinion, “US policy has failed.”
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 13, 2019
Esper acknowledged this morning that he’s also heard reports that Turkish forces or their proxies or both are committing war crimes. Fox News hears the same thing:
BREAKING NEWS: Steve Harrigan joined us live this morning on FOX News Sunday to report on the ground with the latest from Syria. New video is emerging showing Turkish-backed militants killing Kurdish fighters. #FNS pic.twitter.com/u5XNF7lVYI
— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) October 13, 2019
Trump’s response to all of this has been to anxiously tweet out every conceivably line of spin in quick succession and hope something sticks. There’s the “war is bad but at least our guys are safe” take:
There’s the “who cares?” take:
And there’s the “we might act if this keeps up” take:
If Obama had let Erdogan strong-arm him into handing over the Kurds to Turkey and then followed that up by ordering a full retreat after the Turks shelled American troops, citizen Trump would have tweeted that not only is he the weakest man we’ve ever had as president, he may be the weakest man the country’s ever produced. He’d already be accusing Obama — accurately — of having midwifed the rebirth of ISIS, with the U.S. destined to get sucked into another “endless war” a few years from now when American troops are needed to beat back ISIS’s newly expanding caliphate. The Kurds won’t be helping next time either; given the hard lesson they’re learning right now, their best bet after ISIS regroups will be to try to reach an accommodation with the jihadis. If the White House is worried about ISIS targeting the west, it’ll have to deal with the problem directly next time.
But that’s okay. Trump might be out of office by then. It’ll be the next president’s problem, with citizen Trump tweeting disingenuously from the sidelines that he had ISIS completely defeated until President Warren’s “weakness” allowed them to rebuild. Most of his fans will even believe it. Think of this as the foreign policy equivalent of one of his corporate bankruptcies: He tried something, it didn’t work out, and now a bunch of other people will be stuck cleaning it up. He’ll be fine.
Here he is on Friday being asked why, if he’s all about “ending endless wars,” he’s sending 1,800 American troops to Saudi Arabia while he retreats in Syria. Simple answer: Saudi Arabia is willing to cut us a check. If the Kurds want to make us an offer, maybe our mercenary army will reconsider its retreat. You know the Marine Corps motto: “How much?”
NEW: On deployment of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, Pres. Trump says, "Are you ready: Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we're doing. That's a first!" https://t.co/8kdbxWyuln pic.twitter.com/IKNVrgFblt
— ABC News (@ABC) October 11, 2019