US troops have come under fire from Turkish forces in northern Syria, the Pentagon has said, adding to the chaos in the country as Ankara’s incursion continued into its third day.
An explosion occurred a few hundred metres away from a US outpost where the country’s troops are still stationed, according to Captain Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesperson. The outpost is not far from the Syrian town of Kobani.
“US forces have not withdrawn from Kobani,” said Mr DeWalt. “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.”
Although no US personnel were harmed, the incident comes hours after General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Turkish forces were aware of exactly where US troops were positioned in Syria.
General Milley warned that the US military would take defensive action if necessary. “Everyone is fully aware that we are the US military, and we retain the right to self-defence,” he said earlier on Friday.
Turkey’s defence ministry denied hitting the US base, but suggested that American forces had asked its military to hold fire.
In a statement published on Friday night, it said that its forces at a border post in southern Turkey were subjected to mortar and heavy machine gun fire from hills about 1000m away from the US base, and that they returned fire in self-defence.
“There was no firing at the US observation point,” the Turkish defence ministry said. “Before firing, every precaution was taken to ensure that no harm was done to the US base. After a transmission to us from the US, the fire ceased as a precaution. There was absolutely no attack on US or [anti-Isis] coalition soldiers.”
Turkish shelling and air strikes have pounded towns along the Turkey-Syria border since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched an aerial and ground assault on Wednesday, sending 70,000 Syrians fleeing for safety and killing scores of fighters and civilians.
Retaliatory rocket and mortar fire from inside Syria into Turkish border towns has left six people dead. Turkey also announced the death of its first soldier in the operation, whose funeral is expected to take place in Ankara on Saturday.
Although US state department officials have been ordered by President Donald Trump to work on achieving a ceasefire between Kurdish and Turkish forces, a Turkish official on Friday said Ankara would “not negotiate with terrorists”, suggesting that US diplomatic efforts are unlikely to succeed.