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  • In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from targets in Tel Abyad, Syria, during bombardment by Turkish forces, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Saturday, October 12, 2019 1:00 am

Turkey's bombing in Syria nears US troops

Associated Press

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US troops heading to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON – The U.S. is deploying dozens more fighter jets and additional air defenses to Saudi Arabia, beefing up efforts to defend the kingdom against Iran even as President Donald Trump repeatedly insists that America must get out of endless Middle East wars.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the deployments Friday just hours after Iran said two missiles struck one of its oil tankers traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon moves are part of a broader response to the suspected Iranian missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities Sept. 14.

The heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have led the U.S. to pour about 14,000 more U.S. troops into the region since May, including additional ships to maintain maritime security in the Persian Gulf area.

AKCAKALE, Turkey – Turkish forces faced fierce resistance from U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters on the third day of Ankara's offensive in northern Syria, as casualties mounted, international criticism of the campaign intensified and estimates put the number of those who fled the violence at 100,000. In a complicating twist, Washington said its troops also came under fire from NATO ally Turkey.

An explosion was reported later Friday in northern Syria near an outpost where U.S. troops are located, but none of the Americans were hurt, according to a U.S. official and a Syria war monitor. It was the first time a coalition base was in the line of fire since Turkey's offensive began.

Turkey said the U.S. was not targeted and its forces were returning fire after being targeted by Kurdish fighters about half-mile from the U.S. outpost. The Turkish Defense Ministry said it ended the strike after communicating with the U.S.

Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesman, says the artillery explosion came within a few hundred meters of the area where U.S. troops were.

The artillery strike so close to American forces showed the unpredictable nature of the conflict days after President Donald Trump said he was getting U.S. troops out of harm's way.

Earlier on Friday, Turkey said it captured more Kurdish-held villages in the border region, while a hospital in a Syrian town was abandoned and a camp of 4,000 displaced residents about 7 miles from the frontier was evacuated after artillery shells landed nearby.

Reflecting international fears that Turkey's offensive could revive the Islamic State group, two car bombs exploded outside a restaurant in the Kurdish-controlled urban center of Qamishli, killing three people, and the extremists claimed responsibility. The city also was heavily shelled by Turkish forces.

Turkish shelling hit a prison holding IS militants in Qamishli, Syrian Kurdish officials said. They shared a video Friday showing a shell landing in the courtyard of what appears to be a prison facility. Seconds later, a handful of men open doors and seem to be trying to leave.

Kurdish fighters waged intense battles against advancing Turkish troops that sought to take control of two major towns along the Turkish-Syrian border, a war monitor said.

The U.N. estimated the number of displaced at 100,000 since Wednesday, saying that markets, schools and clinics also were closed. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly a half-million people at risk in northeastern Syria.

On Sunday, Trump cleared the way for Turkey's air and ground invasion after he announced his decision to pull American troops from their positions near the border, drawing swift bipartisan criticism that he was endangering regional stability and risking the lives of Syrian Kurdish allies who brought down IS in Syria.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington is not abandoning its Syrian Kurdish allies and pushed back hard for NATO-ally Turkey not to launch the operation. He said U.S. troops are still working with Kurdish fighters.

Despite the criticism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country “will not take a step back” from its offensive.