Kurdish military officials said Saturday that guarding Islamic State prisoners in Syria is no longer a “priority” after Turkey launched an offensive across the border earlier in the week.
A Syrian Democratic Forces senior commander said Kurdish forces guarding the prisons will be redeployed to fight against the Turkish incursion.
“The protection of ISIS prisons will not remain a priority,” the commander said, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State. “The defense of our soil will be prioritized if [the] Turkish military continues its attacks.”
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told Rudaw the prisons contain about 12,000 Islamic State prisoners and camps house about 90,000 members of their families. He said the prisoners are like “bombs.”
“We do not know when they will explode. However, this is no longer our responsibility.
“We are currently subject to a genocidal attack. There is a project to make a demographic change and eradicate Kurds. Therefore, our first duty is the protection of our people, border and soil,” he added.
Turkish forces began the incursion into Syria on Wednesday after the Trump administration agreed not to block the fighting and to withdraw U.S. forces from the war-scarred nation. U.S. President Donald Trump drew widespread criticism for the move from lawmakers in both major parties. They argue the United States is abandoning Kurdish forces who helped the U.S. military defeat the Islamic State terror group there.
Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, known by the acronym YPG, to be terrorists. The YPG, which is considered an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is one of the main groups in the SDF, an alliance of fighters who oppose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Kurds’ announcement came one day after the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that Turkish forces fired on U.S. troops stationed in Syria, though military sources differ on whether the action was intentional.
“U.S. troops in the vicinity of Kobani came under artillery fire from Turkish positions at approximately 9 p.m. local Oct. 11,” Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement late Friday. “The explosion occurred within a few hundred meters of a location outside the Security Mechanism zone and in an area known by the Turks to have U.S. forces present.”
With all U.S. troops accounted for, no injuries have been reported, and “U.S. forces have not withdrawn from Kobani,” DeWalt said in the statement.
“The United States remains opposed to the Turkish military move into Syria and especially objects to Turkish operations outside the Security Mechanism and in areas where the Turks know U.S. forces are present,” he added. “The U.S. demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action.”
Newsweek reported the Turkish attack was apparently by mistake.
“Turkish border outpost south of Surac came under Dochka and mortar fire from the hills located approximately 1,000 meters southwest of a U.S. observation post,” the Turkish Defense Ministry told Newsweek. “In self-defense, reciprocal fire was opened on the terrorist positions of the attack. Turkey did not open fire at the U.S. observation post in any way.
“All precautions were taken prior to opening fire in order to prevent any harm to the U.S. base. As a precaution, we ceased fire upon receiving information from the U.S. We firmly reject the claim that U.S. or Coalition forces were fired upon.”
Turkish forces were conducting Operation Peace Spring against Kurdish fighters when Special Forces came under artillery fire, Newsweek first reported. Special Forces withdrew after the shelling instead of returning fire.
U.S. officials are divided as to whether the attack was a targeting mistake or Turkish military was attempting to pressure U.S. forces to leave the area , CNN reported.
Brett McGurk, former presidential envoy to the global coalition to counter the Islamic State, tweeted it wasn’t a mistake.
“Turkish forces have fired on a declared U.S. military outpost in northern Syria,” McGurk tweeted Friday. “Turkey knows all of our locations down to the precise grid coordinate as confirmed by” Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, “only two hours ago. This was not a mistake.”
The artillery firing came on the same day Trump gave his administration the authority to begin sanctioning Turkey. No sanctions have been levied.
BySommer Brokaw & Danielle Haynes