AAmerican war trucks stuck in mud, besieged by angry Kurdish villagers and the Russian army trying to mediate their escape. After more than five years of fighting Isis in northern Syria, it didn’t have to end like this.
But for U.S. military officials, the scene near the city of Qamishli was a harsh reminder of the incongruent end of the war against the terrorist group and the collaboration with the ally that had helped them prevail.
One man was killed and another injured in the confused incident, which started when an American patrol was attacked near a checkpoint manned by loyal forces in Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday.
It has been a rare direct confrontation between U.S. and Syrian government forces, but since Donald Trump abruptly ended Washington’s pact with the Kurds last October, what remains of the American presence in northeastern Syria has had a difficult time.
Without a clearly defined mission of their own, after exposing their allies to an attack by the Turks and relinquishing control of the province to the Russians, U.S. troops remained more or less out of the fray in the eastern deserts – where oil fields, not the threat of global terror, they have become their new reason for staying.
When U.S. convoys arrive in the city, even in once friendly fortresses such as Qamishli, a warm welcome is no longer guaranteed. When the armored columns left the city in October, they were hit by rocks and fruit. The bases they had occupied in the hard fight against the extremists were taken over by Russian forces within hours of their departure, and the Kurdish leaders who had counted on their patronage found themselves dealing with new sheriffs.
Five months after the U.S. withdrawal, Rojava, as the province is known in northern Syria, has settled into a new routine. The power politics of the American presence has been replaced by a different way of doing things. For some Kurdish officials, the conflict in the northeast has become more than ever a microcosm of the largest Syrian war; an ascending Russia, the disinterested United States, Syrian loyalists seeking leverage and the local Kurds involved in the competing ambitions of Ankara and Moscow.
With little more to offer, an American convoy would always have had to face a cold reception, especially if it had gone to a village that had remained openly loyal to the Syrian central government during the civil war.
The hamlet of Khirbet Ammu, just east of Qamishli, was one of these places; Syrian flags at the entrance show the loyalty of the area. The Arab village, along with a network of nearby roads and the city’s airport, had remained restricted areas for opponents of Bashar al-Assad. Even neighboring Kurds are hesitant to enter without good reason.
The roads in and around Khirbet Ammu are controlled by Russian and Syrian forces and their navigation has become a bristling proposal.
The video of the scene shows US troops surrounded by angry locals shouting, “What do you want from our country? What are your business here? ”Answering in English, a soldier says to the man who shouts,” Back! “
Other clips show men shooting AK-47 rifles and other small arms.
American military officials describe the mission as a “routine patrol” and claim to have been forced to shoot villagers in self-defense.
In addition to the American truck stuck in the mud, another had a flat tire. An American fighter jet flew over the village during the collision. Russian troops have been given calming things.
After Trump’s sudden withdrawal, a strong pushback of his Pentagon aides and leaders managed to keep around 500 troops and armor near Deir Ezzor in the far east of Syria. The stated reason was to protect the oil fields.
“But that was only to get his attention,” said a regional official. “The president of the United States doesn’t understand much else and they had to speak in his language.”
Other officials have said that maintaining the United States’ presence in the region is vital in other ways, especially to maintain some relations with the Kurds, but also to counter Iranian ambitions.
Since the United States has left, a Turkish raid, led by Arab forces by proxy from other parts of Syria, has secured two strongholds along the Kurdish border that have raised strident claims for an ethnic reengineering of the region. Ankara said it intends to send refugees it hosted during the war to live in two areas it has planned for Syrian exiles.
Brett McGurk, a former United States envoy on Isis who has given up on a previous move to withdraw troops – and has since remained a strident critic of Trump’s Syrian policy – suggested that the scene of Khirbet Ammu reflected a deep quagmire of troops US.
“We have American soldiers with an ill-defined mission in Syria (” to protect oil “) after leaving 3/4 of the territory once stable by order of Trump, now forced to take roads controlled by the forces of the Russian and Syrian regime” written on Twitter. “Too much to ask our brave warriors.”