Report exposes 10 U.S. locations in Syria
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.