Turkey-backed militias in Syria
© REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Turkey-backed militias in Syria
American troops have reportedly withdrawn from their observation post in the town of Kobani in northern Syria as the Turkish Army advances deeper south and Damascus says it has sent its military to the area.

The pullout began after 3pm local time, Turkey's Anadolu news agency reported, citing security sources. There has been no confirmation from the Pentagon. The American observation post in Kobani, the strategic town also known as Ayn Al-Arab, came under Turkish artillery fire on Saturday. No one was hurt and it's unclear if the attack was deliberate.

Comment: A few more details have come out about the situation:
When US troops at an observation post near Kobani in Syria almost came under shelling from Turkish positions, they made multiple requests to their commanders for permission to return fire or at least to evacuate, Newsweek reported, citing an anonymous senior Pentagon official.

They were not given permission to return fire, but while the US was trying to reach Turkish forces, the US Air Force directed their laser designators at the Turkish positions, openly letting them know that they were in the crosshairs and could be attacked any minute if necessary, the source told the media outlet. The shelling reportedly stopped soon afterwards.

The exchange reportedly didn't pass by the Turkish command unnoticed, which is now allegedly exercising greater caution in its operations.

"The Turks are really afraid now, since [the] incident, where they were planning to scare off the Coalition Forces back so they can have an all-out Turkish invasion on Kobane. But fortunately the Turks quickly learned who the US Military are. Since [then] the Turkish military are approaching the American Coalition with great caution", an anonymous Kurdish intelligence official told Newsweek.

A small number of US troops have also reportedly left their station in the town of Ain Issa, a Kurdish administration center located an hour's drive south of Kobani. This happened as Turkish-backed militias were advancing on the city. The troops were relocated to other bases in Syria, according to the Washington Post.

Earlier reports claimed that US troops in Ain Issa were left isolated after Turkish-backed forces took control of the M4 highway, a key supply route in northern Syria that runs through the city.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Sunday that the US is planning to evacuate about 1,000 troops from northern Syria. "We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it's a very untenable situation," he told CBS. "There is no way they could stop 15,000 Turks from proceeding south."

The Turkish Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its troops have pushed 30-35km into the Kurdish-held territory, several kilometers beyond its proposed 30km 'safe zone.'

Meanwhile, the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said it had reached an agreement with Damascus for Syrian government troops to be deployed along the border with Turkey. The Syrian Army entered the city of Manbij in the northern province of Aleppo late on Sunday, Lebanese broadcaster Al Mayadeen reported. They are said to be planning to reach Kobani, some 60km away, within 48 hours. RT's sources in the region have confirmed the report.

With the Syrian Army on the move, pressure is mounting on Turkey, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

"The Syrian government is going to try to go across and get the oilfields, the gas fields that are so crucial for Syria's economic wellbeing," he said, adding that they also want to take control over prime agricultural land and the Tabqa Dam, which the Americans and the Kurds have held. Landis fears that without enough diplomatic effort, an all-out war could break out between Turkey and Syria.

The Turkish military entered northern Syria as part of the so-called "Operation Peace Spring," with Ankara saying it would establish a buffer zone for the return of Syrian refugees. However, it is also aimed against the Kurdish militia who Turkey considers to be terrorists, and has led to an exodus of Kurdish civilians from the area.

Ankara's move has been condemned internationally, and several Western countries have halted their military supplies to Turkey in retaliation. US President Donald Trump, who has come under heavy criticism for pulling out American troops and thus "betraying Kurdish allies," on Sunday threatened to impose "powerful sanctions on Turkey." Those could personally target Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, Trump is unlikely to change his mind about the withdrawal, which he says was needed to end the "endless war."