Defense Secretary Mark Esper told "Face the Nation" on Sunday that remaining US troops were caught between Turkish forces and the SDF and that it would be “irresponsible for me to keep them in that position.” Revealing that Trump has ordered “a deliberate withdrawal” from Northern Syria “as safely and quickly as possible,” which includes some 1,000 troops — Esper further addressed controversy surrounding a Friday incident where a US base in Kobani came under Turkish artillery fire.
"And so we find ourselves, we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it's a very untenable situation," Esper said. According to defense officials speaking to The Washington Post this weekend, the Army believes Turkish artillery fire on American positions in Kobani were deliberate, specifically accusing Turkey of 'bracketing' U.S. forces by firing on both sides of the observation post.
Esper was asked about this dangerous escalation, to which he responded that US troops "have the right to self defense and we will execute it if necessary" — thus indicating that American forces in Syria have been given the green light to fire back if fired upon. “A senior Pentagon official said shelling was so heavy that the U.S. personnel considered firing back in self-defense,” a prior report cited.
"A contingent of U.S. Special Forces has been caught up in Turkish shelling against U.S.-backed Kurdish positions in northern Syria," Newsweek initially reported of the Friday incident.
The Newsweek report cited an "Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and senior Pentagon official" to say that "Special Forces operating in the Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces" amid operations related to 'Operation Peace Spring'.
"We had been there for months, and it is the most clearly defined position in that entire area," an Army officer told the Post. Multiple 155mm shells fell "within a few hundred yards of the base on Mistenur Hill," the officer said.
US official - the situation on the ground is deteriorating rapidly in Syria. Extremist Turkish proxies have advanced. US Forces at risk of being isolated. increased risk of confrontation between Turkish proxies and US Forces unless Turkey halts their advance immediately.— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) October 13, 2019
Later reports suggested the US contingent had temporarily withdrawn from their position in Kobani as a result, but a Pentagon official subsequently said U.S. troops had not withdrawn from Kobane.
Brett McGurk, a former White House anti-ISIL special envoy to the region under both Trump and Obama, wrote on Twitter of the incident: "[The shelling] was not a mistake."
“Turkey wants us off the entire border region to a depth of 30 kilometers,” McGurk also told the Post. “These were warning shots on a known location, not inadvertent rounds.”
It now appears, however, that the White House wants to avoid even the possibility that such a close encounter could happen again, given the newly announced "deliberate withdrawal" of American forces from any position in the path of the Turkish incursion.