“The US should have thought about this before it cooperated with a terrorist organization.”
This week, the state-run news outlet in Turkey, the Anadolu Agency, published detailed information on the location of US bases in northern Syria. The locations of the US bases the Turkish government disclosed are on the front lines in the effort to take down the last ISIS hold-out in Raqqa, Syria.
In the US, even though the locations have been exposed, the military and its publications are refraining from acknowledging the locations in an attempt to maintain some safety of US forces occupying the bases.
“For operational security reasons, we do not disclose the locations of coalition forces operating in Syria to defeat ISIS,” wrote Department of Defense spokesman Eric Pahon. “The release of sensitive military information exposes coalition forces to unnecessary risk and has the potential to disrupt ongoing operations to defeat ISIS.”
The Turkish news agency identified ten bases, which include two with air strips. The Anadolu Agency’s English-language website displayed a detailed map with the base locations identified. The Turkish version of the website also includes some troop counts and a map of the US armed forces locations.
The Turkish agency also identified the locations of French special forces. Overall, the map shows that the US area of operations in the region is much larger than previously thought. Recently there have been reports and videos of US armored vehicles moving into Syria in large numbers. Some of these vehicles are in support of the Kurdish forces and are part of an aid package, but other vehicles shown on the video are not part of that package. There is wide speculation on exactly who will be operating those pieces of equipment.
Turkey views the YPG as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a Turkish separatist movement that has been labeled as a terrorist organization by several nations including Turkey and the US, as well as the European Union. The US does not consider the YPG as part of that movement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has largely opposed the Trump administration’s decision back in early May to arm the Kurdish YPK militant group. The growing rift between the Trump administration and Turkey may explain the Turkish government publishing the map showing US positions in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria.
The Pentagon did not comment on how the Anadolu Agency got the information it published. “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,” wrote Pahon.
Anadolu Agency reporter Levent Tok says the troop locations weren’t leaked by the Turkish government, but that the locations were gathered by Anadolu’s reporters in Syria, as well as from social media posts by Kurdish fighters. “The US should have thought about this before it cooperated with a terrorist organization,” said Tok in an interview with Bloomberg.
But Aaron Stein of the Atlantic Council told Bloomberg that the locations were most likely leaked to the Anadolu Agency in retaliation for US cooperation with the YPG. The map also indicates that there has been a buildup of US forces between the YPG and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, or FSA.
Turkish warplanes have attacked US-backed Kurds numerous times over the last several months. In April, Turkish warplanes struck YPG and Iraqi Peshmerga positions, and in May, Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces fired mortars at positions near the Syrian city of Manbij, where US forces are located.
In the confusing politics of the Syrian civil war, the fight against ISIS, and the Russian support for the Assad regime, attacks such as these undermine the US-backed campaign in Raqqa, where Kurdish militants are in their second month of operations to liberate the de facto ISIS capital.