Re­port ex­poses 10 U.S. lo­ca­tions in Syria

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Ben­jamin Har­vey, Tay­lan Bil­gic, Fi­rat Ko­zok and Ben Hol­land of Bloomberg News and by Philip Issa of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

IS­TAN­BUL — Tur­key’s state-run news agency pub­lished U.S. base lo­ca­tions in north­ern Syria, a move that threat­ens to deepen distrust be­tween the two al­lies by ex­pos­ing Amer­i­can sol­diers on the front lines of the fight against Is­lamic State.

In re­ports pub­lished Tues­day in both Turk­ish and English, Tur­key’s state-run Anadolu Agency pro­vided de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about 10 U.S. bases in north­ern Syria, in­clud­ing troop counts and a map of the U.S. force pres­ence in the Turk­ish ver­sion.

The re­ports said the mil­i­tary out­posts are “usu­ally hid­den for se­cu­rity rea­sons, mak­ing it hard to be de­tected.” It said they were lo­cated “in the ter­ror­ist PKK/PYD-held Syr­ian ter­ri­to­ries,” re­fer­ring to Kur­dish groups that Tur­key’s gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.

De­spite a tight mil­i­tary al­liance dat­ing back to the Cold War, Tur­key and the U.S. have been at odds for years now over the U.S. back­ing of Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria who are af­fil­i­ated with sep­a­ratist move­ments in­side Tur­key.

The Pen­tagon said it had con­veyed its con­cerns to the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment.

“While we can­not in­de­pen­dently ver­ify the sources that con­trib­uted to this story, we would be very con­cerned if of­fi­cials from a NATO ally would pur­pose­fully en­dan­ger our forces by re­leas­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion,” Maj. Adrian J.T. Rank­ine-Gal­loway, a De­fense De­part­ment spokesman, said in an emailed state­ment. “The re­lease of sen­si­tive mil­i­tary in­for­ma­tion ex­poses Coali­tion forces to un­nec­es­sary risk and has the po­ten­tial to dis­rupt on­go­ing op­er­a­tions to de­feat ISIS.”

Levent Tok, an Anadolu Agency re­porter on the story, said the in­for­ma­tion about U.S. troop po­si­tions wasn’t leaked. The story was based on field­work by Anadolu’s Syria re­porters and some of the in­for­ma­tion on bases had been broad­cast on so­cial me­dia by Kur­dish fight­ers, he told Bloomberg on Wednes­day.

“The U.S. should have thought about this be­fore it co­op­er­ated with a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he said.

Syria’s civil war has drawn in sev­eral ex­ter­nal pow­ers, rais­ing ques­tions about their longer-term plans in the coun­try now that Is­lamic State is in re­treat.

Con­struc­tion of mil­i­tary bases is of­ten taken as a clue.

In re­cent days, Is­raeli of­fi­cials have warned that they won’t tol­er­ate the es­tab­lish­ment of per­ma­nent Ira­nian fa­cil­i­ties in Syria, while Rus­sia signed an ac­cord that could keep its air bases in Syria for decades. Tur­key is most wor­ried about Kur­dish-run en­claves in Syria’s north; its na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil said in a state­ment Mon­day that it wouldn’t al­low a “ter­ror­ist state” on its bor­ders.

News of the Anadolu story was pub­lished ear­lier Wednes­day by the Daily Beast, which also re­leased cor­re­spon­dence with U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials urg­ing the re­porter, Roy Gutman, not to dis­sem­i­nate the in­for­ma­tion be­cause they said it would ex­pose sen­si­tive tac­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion and put coali­tion lives in jeop­ardy.

The in­ci­dent is the lat­est to strain re­la­tions be­tween Tur­key and a ma­jor NATO ally. Last week, a se­nior Turk­ish of­fi­cial told Bloomberg that Tur­key had agreed to pur­chase a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem from Rus­sia, a move that could jeop­ar­dize Tur­key’s re­la­tions with the Western se­cu­rity bloc. Ger­many is in the process of with­draw­ing from Tur­key’s most im­por­tant NATO base, In­cir­lik, af­ter Tur­key re­peat­edly re­fused to al­low Ger­man law­mak­ers to visit troops there.

REBELS, JI­HADIS CLASH

In Syria, fierce clashes be­tween rebels and al-Qaida-linked mil­i­tants spread through the north­west re­gion Wednes­day, as the two sides jos­tled for con­trol over a bor­der town.

At least 11 peo­ple, in­clud­ing three civil­ians, were killed, ac­cord­ing to the Britain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights. The toll was likely to climb as the ri­vals switch to heav­ier weaponry such as tanks, ar­tillery, and sui­cide bomb­ings.

Ah­mad Abazeid, a lo­cal me­dia ac­tivist, said a pow­er­ful and con­ser­va­tive rebel fac­tion called Ahrar al-Sham had con­sol­i­dated con­trol over Sar­mada af­ter seiz­ing the of­fices of the al-Qaida-linked Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee. Sar­mada con­trols trade through the Bab al-Hawa cross­ing with Tur­key.

But the Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee seized the next town over, al-Dana, ac­cord­ing to the ex­trem­ists’ own Abaa’ News Agency, mean­ing they could still con­trol the move­ment of goods through Idlib, the op­po­si­tion-held prov­ince in north­west­ern Syria that is home to nearly a mil­lion Syr­i­ans dis­placed by fight­ing.

The infighting comes days af­ter Ahrar al-Sham adopted the tri­color Syr­ian rebel flag be­side its own white ji­hadist flag as it en­deav­ors to win over main­stream sup­port in op­po­si­tion-held parts of Syria.

It was “an­other nod to­ward mod­er­a­tion,” said Syria an­a­lyst Sam Heller, af­ter the group pledged to adopt an in­ter­na­tion­al­ized ju­di­cial code for its courts. Fac­tions in rebel Syria of­ten com­pete with one an­other to run the courts in their re­spec­tive zones of in­flu­ence.

But the shift has alien­ated the al-Qaida-linked group, which dom­i­nates Idlib prov­ince and of­ten pulls down dis­plays of the green, white, and black tri­color in fa­vor of its own black flag. It also abides by a harsh ju­di­cial code.

The ji­hadis fired on demon­stra­tors wav­ing the tri­color flag in the prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, also called Idlib, on Tues­day, spark­ing the clashes, said the Ob­ser­va­tory. The Ob­ser­va­tory also re­ported fight­ing around Saraqib, Salqin and other towns dot­ting Idlib prov­ince.

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