WASHINGTON — U.S. forces exchanged fire with Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels near the Syrian city of Manbij, according to Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Our forces did receive fire and return fire and then moved to a secure location,” he told Reuters in a phone conversation.
U.S. forces in Manbij have been conducting overt presence patrols to monitor and report on warring factions in the region.
In spring, U.S. Stryker vehicles carrying U.S. flags could be seen patrolling the area. The region has been a hotbed of activity, with minor small arms altercations between U.S.-backed Kurdish allies and Turkish partner forces.
The Pentagon has acknowledged indirect fire incidents in and around Manbij between U.S. forces and other actors, but this is the first time U.S. forces have returned fire.
Relations between Ankara and Washington have soured since Trump’s May decision to arm the controversial Kurdish fighters. Ankara believes the militant group is no different than the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an internationally designated terrorist group that has waged a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for decades.
“Our overt patrols that have been conducting patrols in that area to keep tensions down received fire multiple times over the course of the last two weeks,” Dillon said.
Dillon said that the coalition has reached out to Turkey and told them that their proxy forces firing on coalition forces “is not acceptable,” according to the Reuters report.
Tensions have been high in the region, as the U.S.-backed Kurdish militants, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, are in their third month of attempting to liberate ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. The militant group controls roughly 60 percent of the city.
Provocations by Turkey and its Free Syrian Army partners in northern Syria, however, have increased pressure in the region, as Turkey has threatened to wage war against Kurdish groups, which could impact the coalition’s war against ISIS.