U.S. forces in Syria are still conducting ground and air patrols in Syria, according to a coalition U.S. military official.
The patrols continue despite reports of a temporary pause in anti-ISIS operations in the country as Turkish forces continue to advance against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.
The coalition official told Military Times that the patrols are necessary for the “security" of coalition forces in Syria.
The U.S. coalition official, who provided a statement to Military Times on condition of anonymity, said the patrols were not “directly associated with any activity related to tension along the border.”
“The ground patrols specifically avoid areas that have active combat operations. Coalition troops remain in Syria to defeat Daesh (ISIS) remnants,” the official said.
The statement from the U.S. military coalition official came in response to questions posed by Military Times regarding video produced by Syrian opposition news agency SMART of U.S. special operations forces operating in Oshkosh M-ATV armored vehicles about 30 km from the Syrian town of Tal-Abyad.
SMART news agency said it spoke to the leader of the U.S. commando patrol who told SMART that “their forces will target the Turkish army if it advances inside Syrian territory more than the agreed distance between the United States and Turkey,” according to a translation of the Arabic caption describing the video.
Turkey has said its forces will not advance further than 30 km into northern Syria.
The American commando patrol cannot be heard in the video, and the alleged comments from the U.S. special operations commander are only referenced in a description of the video.
Coalition officials with Operation Inherent Resolve — the U.S.-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria — did not verify the comments or authenticity of the video.
SMART news agency says the video was produced on Friday.
The video was uploaded before reports streamed in of a Turkish artillery strike that landed about 300 meters from a U.S. military position near the Syrian city of Kobani. No American troops were hurt in the incident.
The Turkish artillery strike appears to be an accident. A senior U.S. official told Military Times that describing the incident as an attack on U.S. forces was not accurate.
The SDF press office said that U.S. forces returned to their observation post on Mishtanur hill near Kobani after a temporary withdrawal following the Turkish artillery strike that nearly hit their position.
“[T]he Turkish military is fully aware, down to explicit grid coordinate detail, of the locations of U.S. forces, and we have been in coordination with them through the CAOC [Combined Air Operations Center] in CENTCOM, at various levels throughout CENTCOM and personally at my level. So all levels of the chain of command — me, McKenzie, everybody — is coordinating with the Turks to make sure that they know exactly where American forces are, and everyone has been told," Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, told reporters at the Pentagon Friday.
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. is the commander of U.S. Central Command.
Turkey is currently in its fourth day of military operations against U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria. According to Reuters, Turkish-backed Syrian militia forces have entered the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the start of military operations Wednesday to rout out Kurdish militants in northern Syria and the establishment of a safe zone for the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
Turkey views the YPG — a Kurdish militant group that operates under the larger SDF banner — as an armed wing of the internationally recognized terrorist group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
The SDF said Saturday that more than 200 have been killed since the start of the Turkish incursion, and continued to press the coalition for a no-fly zone.
“We are aware of the international coalition for the safety of its soldiers and we did not ask and we will not ask to send coalition soldiers to defend our land,” the SDF press office tweeted Saturday.
Turkish military operations continue unabated despite international condemnation.
Aaron Mehta, the senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News contributed to this story.