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Turkey's exposure of US Syria bases targets support for Kurd militias

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Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) take a break in Raqqa, Syria July 3, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

The United States has reacted angrily after Turkey's state news agency disclosed the locations of 10 American military facilities in northern Syria. The Anadolu agency on Monday published details of the location of the 10 bases and outposts and the number of US and French special operations forces working at some of them.


Turkish observers were not surprised at the Anadolu leak, since Turkey has been angry that the US and other Nato allies backing Syrian Kurdish armed groups for the last year.

“It is interesting that a news agency does have access to this kind of information,” says professor Iltar Turan of Bilgi University.

“But, apart from that, I think this is a signal to the US saying, ‘Don’t think we are not aware of what sort of things are happening and how deeply you are involved in Syria.’

“The Turkish side is trying to tell the Americans that they are quite aware that you are much more comprehensibly involved in northern Syria than you are willing to admit and we are aware of everything that’s going on.”

In October 2015 the US had a big hand in the organisation of Syrian Kurdish opposition groups, helping to establish the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey says the PYD is strongly affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is locked in a bitter guerrilla war with the Turkish government. Washington maintains that it does not cooperate with the separatists.

US support for the Syrian Kurds was a reaction to Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict in support of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Under current US President Donald Trump this programme has been massively expanded, officially with 500 US soldiers in supporting functions, although some believe the figure is over 1,000 US.

Anadolu details the presence of US and French special forces stationed in a military post near the Kurdish-controlled town of Kobani. And in Ayn Issah, a town in northern Raqqa, troops it reports there are 200 US soldiers and 75 French special forces units.

White House scraps cover support to armed groups

In a separate development, the Washington Post reports that the White House is putting a halt to covert CIA support for other armed groups that fight the Islamic State armed group and the Assad regime.

This may be a direct result of secret negotiations between the US, Russia and Jordan earlier in July.

“The CIA has basically supported the rebels against Bashar al-Assad," says professor Günter Meyer, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World (CERAW)

"Supporting the rebels, they provided training to Syrian opposition groups, they provided weapons on a large scale, even including weapons from Libya, from [former leader Moamer] Khadafi, which were transferred over to Turkey and then distributed to the so-called rebels. [ .. ] A large amount of these weapons actually ended up amongst the jihadists of Isis," he explains.

In that way, Meyer says, “the CIA was basically supporting the radical Islamist groups Ahrar al Sham, Nusra front as well as Isis - they receive the majority of these weapons.”

US analysts, quoted in the Washington Post, accused Trump of giving in to Russia.

But the US’s decision may be a direct result of secret three-way talks in Amman in July, that resulted in a partial ceasefire earlier this month.

The negotiations followed a private trip of the King of Jordan to New York, at the beginning of this month.

"The Geneva round of peace talks and also the less-reported Astana rounds [in which Iran also takes part] are dead,” says Meyer.

The low-key diplomacy, involving the King Abdullah II of Jordan, seems to have borne some fruit, but the latest flare-up of tensions between Washington and Turkey will not improve prospects for overall peace in Syria.