Kurdistan 24 Exclusive: US troops continue to fight ISIS but Turkish attacks ongoing
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - A Kurdistan 24 team was granted exclusive access by the US-led coalition and traveled with the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks to two bases in eastern Syria on Monday to examine the situation on the ground.
The visit comes after US President Donald Trump's decision to leave about 500 to 600 American troops in Syria to protect oilfields and support, but not protect, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against Turkish attacks.
Kurdistan 24 was given a unique opportunity to see the situation in eastern Syria after Trump withdrew the bulk of US troops from the Syrian-Turkish border in early October, which paved the way for Turkey to attack the Syrian Kurds, leading to mass displacement and the death of over 300 civilians.
Many regarded the decision as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies in the region.
"It was a sad moment for us," SDF press head Mustafa Bali told Kurdistan 24.
In an undisclosed base in oil-rich Deir al-Zor, US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Chris Becker told Kurdistan 24 that the withdrawal decision had not affected the relationship between the SDF and the US-led coalition. "The relationship has remained the same; they [SDF] are very nice with us and we talk on a regular basis."
There are Apache helicopters and artillery units at the base that prevent the resurgence of the so-called Islamic State. They also prevent Syrian government troops from gaining control of oilfields in SDF-held territories in Deir al-Zor.
After Turkey launched an offensive in northern Syria on Oct. 9, over 300 civilians were killed. Turkey also took control of a territory between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.
According to earlier ceasefire deals between both the US and Turkey, and between Russia and Turkey, Turkey is allowed to keep the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al Ain (Serekaniye).
However, despite the ceasefire deals, attacks by Turkish-backed groups continue.
"The United States of America and the Russian Federation need to make Turkey apply the agreements made with them regarding the ceasefire and stopping the [military] operation," SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel told Kurdistan 24 in Syria.
US soldiers on the ground, and in private, expressed their worries and sympathy for the fate of their fellow Kurdish fighters amid Turkey's attacks.
On Tuesday, Turkish-backed militias captured three Christian fighters.
"There were some SDF fighters concerned about their families closer to the border with Turkey and what potentially could happen with them," US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Chris Becker said. "Of course, I can emphasize with them, I have family back home, and I can only imagine if they would be in danger."
Despite their sympathy, US soldiers told Kurdistan 24 that they have to follow orders from the "higher-ups" and cannot change the White House's decision.
Initially, the biggest concern for the US forces remaining in Deir al-Zor was that SDF fighters would advance the north to help their colleagues defend the border.
"We understood that we did what we could to help them, but at the same time stressed the importance to remain in place and keep the mission down in the southeast porter over here," Sgt. Becker added.
Before Turkey attacked the Kurdish-led forces, the SDF leadership warned the US it would be forced into a deal with the Syrian government to protect its borders and send fighters to the border from areas in Deir al-Zor.
At an undisclosed location in the Hasakah province, where Bradley armored vehicles arrived for the first time last week, LTC Cindi King, a Public Affairs Officer for the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, told Kurdistan 24 their armored units provide additional fire power.
She added that the main mission was always to counter the Islamic State. "Our mission is to maintain stability and, of course, to ensure our partners stay strong and our soldiers stay ready."
When the Bradley vehicles rolled into eastern Syria, they were welcomed by the local Kurdish population, who earlier expressed anger over US troops leaving. "Our soldiers shared how positive the reception was, they had citizens waving and smiling."
Turkish armored vehicles received a more hostile welcome from the local population when they patrolled the Syrian border with the Russian Military Police near Kobani and Hasakah.
However, Coalition officials confirm that their duty is not the border area between Turkey and Syria, where most Kurds live.
"We are out of the Western areas we used to control [near Kobani]," US Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, head of Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (SOJTF-OIR), told reporters from the base in Hasakah, "and moved them back to Iraq, and most of them to the United States."
The forces remain in the east and continue the fight against the Islamic State with the SDF. "We will be in bases from Deir al-Zor to Qamishli and Derik, and all throughout this extensive area."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to meet with Trump on Wednesday in Washington, DC. However, Kurds fear Erdogan could convince President Trump to allow more Turkish attacks outside of the ceasefire agreement.
SDF official Bali confirmed there are still fears that Turkey could attack Kobani and other areas.
"Russia and America and other states should give a guarantee to protect our people."
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany