Turkish State New Agency Reveals Locations Of U.S. Troops In Syria
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
To get an idea of what relations are like right now between the U.S. and Turkey, consider what happened last week. The Turkish state news agency revealed the locations of 10 U.S. military bases and outposts in the part of Syria where U.S. forces are fighting ISIS. Up until now, some of those locations had been secret.
Turkish officials didn't give a reason for this, but it is well known that they are unhappy the U.S. has allied itself with members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to defeat ISIS. The PKK has been fighting the Turkish government for decades and has been designated a terrorist group. Reporter Roy Gutman wrote about this for the Daily Beast, and I asked him if it's normal to reveal undisclosed locations of U.S. troops.
ROY GUTMAN: Well, it certainly caught my attention because I didn't know where the bases were. I was surprised to read the level of detail. Sometimes they would say there's a hundred Americans at one outpost, 75 French special forces there. This is highly unusual for a NATO ally to reveal the locations of bases of another NATO ally that's at war, that's actually fighting at this very moment.
MCEVERS: When this information was released in the Turkish state media, did the U.S. military have any reaction?
GUTMAN: Well, their reaction was provoked only by my phone call and my messages. They had not noticed it, in fact. They said we shouldn't be running the story at all and we shouldn't run the details, that it was going to endanger soldiers' lives and so on. And I responded, well, you know, as a matter of fact, this has been out in print now for the last 24 hours.
MCEVERS: And the implication, of course, is that militants, ISIS militants, could have access to this information and that people could be put in harm's way because of it, yeah?
GUTMAN: The thing we know about ISIS is that they're pretty well-informed already. On the other hand, you know, why make it so easy? Why confirm everything? That's what really surprised me.
MCEVERS: Right. I mean, the Turkish leadership, of course, is very frustrated with the fact that the United States is working with Kurdish fighters on the ground and that - claims that some of these Kurdish fighters are part of a group that the Turks have deemed to be terrorists. Is it true that every fighter, that every Kurdish fighter that the U.S. is working with is part of this terrorist organization or is it fuzzier than that?
GUTMAN: It's called The People's Protection Force, and it's connected - it's like the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is the PKK. The Syrian affiliate officers all come from the PKK. Now, I think the U.S. decided at a certain point - it was, like, late 2015 - that it didn't look very good for the United States to be allying with one terror group in order to fight another terror group. But the fact is it was rather hard to conceal it.
So what they did was the U.S. set up a new militia called the Syrian Democratic Forces and they recruited a lot of Arabs to serve under the Kurdish officers who come straight from the same People's Protection Force/PKK. Look, this is an organized force. You know, in some ways, it's, like, a perfect ally to have on the ground. And the only problem is that their pedigree is very mixed.
MCEVERS: I mean, in the short-term, what's the way forward here? It's not as if the U.S. is going to stop working with these Kurdish fighters. And it's not as if the Turkish leadership is going to stop being angry about that alliance.
GUTMAN: Well, that's just more clashes and more bitterness. I mean, among the things the Turks are very upset about is after Raqqa has been freed from ISIS, who really takes over? And the U.S. says that it has an answer, it's going to be the people of Raqqa, the rightful citizens are going to be in control. But as a matter of fact, the structure they set up is one that puts Kurds in key places in an Arab town.
And the truth is the U.S. plan is probably not going to bring stability. It might just sow the seeds for a civil war in northern Syria. The U.S. may be using forces in northern Syria to protect the same Kurds that Turkey wants to attack. I mean, it could come to that. We haven't seen the worst of it.
MCEVERS: Reporter Roy Gutman. His article "Turkey Leaks Secret Locations Of U.S. Troops In Syria" was published in the Daily Beast. He joined us from Istanbul. Thank you so much.
GUTMAN: Great to talk to you, Kelly.
MCEVERS: And today, we got a statement from the Pentagon. It says, in part, while we cannot independently verify the sources that contributed to this story, we would be very concerned if officials from a NATO ally would purposely endanger our forces by releasing sensitive information. We have conveyed those concerns to the government of Turkey.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.