Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

US-led coalition shares tweet calling Turkish snipers 'terrorists', issues apology

The social media blunder follows renewed tension between Washington and Ankara

US forces and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol the Kurdish-held town of Al-Darbasiyah in northeastern Syria bordering Turkey. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw American soldiers from Syria. AFP
US forces and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol the Kurdish-held town of Al-Darbasiyah in northeastern Syria bordering Turkey. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw American soldiers from Syria. AFP

The spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS, Colonel Sean Ryan, has apologised after a retweet landed him in diplomatic difficulties this week.

Col Ryan shared a tweet by Will Jamesson-Bryant in which the social-media user refers to Turkey army snipers as "terrorists". Turkey is a key US partner in the battle against the ISIS and has forces in northern Syria.

The tweet features an image of four children walking by what Mr Jamesson-Bryant identifies as a US Special Forces armed vehicle patrolling the Turkey-Syria border.

The caption reads: "US Special Forces [Green Berets] patrolling the Rojava-Turkey border after terrorist Turkish army snipers targeted Rojavan civilians, killing a little girl walking home from school. These children are safe, protected by Green Berets."

The tweet was shared by Col Ryan through the official account of Operation Inherent Resolve, sparking praise and criticism. Some called for the spokesman's resignation, but others praised the joint US-Syrian Democratic Forces efforts in north-eastern Syria.

In response to the backlash on Tuesday, Col Ryan tweeted: "In my official capacity, I accidentally shared content that was insulting to our Coalition partner Turkey, a key partner in the mission to defeat ISIS. I meant no disrespect. We have a duty to mutual security, and we are committed to defeating ISIS. Please accept my apology."

In an emailed statement to The National, US Central Command said the "tweet was unfortunate and an oversight. He [Col. Ryan] certainly did not mean any disrespect. Turkey is a key partner in the mission to defeat ISIS, and the Coalition remains committed to make gains against them."

The tweet follows months of strained relations between Washington and Ankara over America's support of the Syrian Democratic Forces - a Kurdish-led, anti-ISIS militia. Turkey's violent history with its own Kurdish separatists, the PKK, and the group's close ties to the US-backed Syrian Kurds have been aggravated by the presence of SDF forces on the Turkish border. Turkey considers the YPG, a Kurdish militia that is a major component of the SDF, as an offshoot of the PKK.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently threatened to launch a new offensive on the US-backed forces after the Pentagon confirmed the US had established observation posts on the Syria-Turkey border.

Kurdish and Turkish forces in Syria have clashed on a number of occasions.

At the Doha Forum this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied threatening the safety of US troops in Syria saying they would only target the SDF. However, US forces are embedded within the Kurdish led force and they have numerous outposts and watchtowers across SDF controlled areas.

The SDF on Friday captured the town of Hajin, the largest urban area controlled by ISIS in eastern Syria. The "end days" of ISIS in the enclave they hold near Iraq's border are getting closer, however, "they still have the capability for co-ordinated attacks, and the fight is not over," Col Ryan said previously.

The Trump administration hopes that the US-backed fight against ISIS in its last foothold in north-eastern Syria will be over in months. But a top US diplomat recently said American forces will remain to ensure the “enduring defeat” of the militant group.

Updated: December 18, 2018 05:09 PM

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