“Five or six” US special forces troops had to withdraw from the town of al-Rai on Syria’s border with Turkey, after allies from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had driven them out, calling them “infidels” and “crusaders,” several media outlets have reported.
The Turkish military, which last month openly crossed the Syrian border to fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), has admitted that US soldiers are providing a supporting and coordinating role in the operation being carried out between the Syrian towns of Azaz and al-Rai, Reuters reports.
At least two videos circulated on Twitter on Friday evening appeared to show that they were not welcome in al-Rai.
— RT (@RT_com) September 16, 2016
The footage shows a group of agitated men, gathered in the town square, shouting anti-American slogans in Arabic, as a cavalcade of vehicles passes by.
The chants include: “Down with America,” “Get out you dogs,” and “They are coming to Syria to occupy it.” Voices in the background call the US troops “pigs” and “crusaders.”
“We don’t want a single American fighting in Syria alongside us,” says a man in the second video. “We are Muslims, we are not infidels. Get out!”
Reuters cited a US official and a “senior rebel commander,” who confirmed that a protest had taken place, which ended with US troops making their way back towards the Turkish border.
Later, a group of rebels purporting to be representatives of Ahrar al-Sharqiya, a militia operating in the area, circulated a video statement, saying that US support of Kurds, who are also fighting Islamic State, was behind their protest.
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) September 16, 2016
“We and other FSA groups fighting in and around Aleppo say that we remain a free army, and refuse to fight on the side of Americans, who support the terrorist Kurdish PKK. We are halting all military activities until US troops leave the region.”
The US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the “rhetoric” used by the rebels was “not appropriate” and acknowledged that the opposition “is not a monolith,” but still praised the overall success of Turkey’s operation inside northern Syria.
“We knew all along that the Turkish forces would be teaming up with some opposition forces, and in this they have been successful. So, let’s keep in mind the greater goal, which was to choke off that stretch of border so that [ISIS] can’t use it,” he said during a press briefing in Washington.
— Riam Dalati (@Dalatrm) September 16, 2016
“We’ve discovered this many times in Muslim world, where the US deploys its troops, whether it’s Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Syria, it is seen as the enemy, the occupier. Secondly, the incident highlights the problems the US has been having in identifying moderate Syrian rebels – despite spending billions of dollars ‘developing’ them – and the fact that this is coming from the supposed allies in the FSA isn’t actually surprising,” Max Abrahms, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern told RT.
The Pentagon says it has allocated 40 special operations forces combatants to participate in the Turkish incursion. According to CNN, the joint effort has been labeled Operation Noble Lance, and is the first time the two forces have fought side by side on Syrian soil since the start of the conflict.
New US SOF mission in northern Syria to advise assist Turks is called "Operation Noble Lance" US officials tell CNN
— Barbara Starr (@barbarastarrcnn) September 16, 2016
The Damascus government of Bashar Assad earlier condemned Turkey’s crossing of the border a “breach of sovereignty.”