QAMISHLI: A suicide attack killed four US personnel in northern Syria on Wednesday, causing the United States to suffer its worst combat losses in the war-torn country since 2014 as it prepares to withdraw. Among the four who died were two soldiers and two civilians.
The bombing claimed by the IS group comes after US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month that he was ordering a full troop withdrawal from Syria because the jihadists had been “largely defeated”.
The US-led coalition fighting IS said “US service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria” on Wednesday, without giving a death toll.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two Americans soldiers, nine Syrian civilians, and five US-backed fighters were killed in the attack on a restaurant in the northern city of Manbij near the Turkish border.
According to Pentagon statistics, Wednesday’s blast was the deadliest attack for US coalition forces in Syria since they deployed in 2014.
The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources in Syria, said it was the first such suicide attack in the city in 10 months.
Speaking at a gathering in Washington of US ambassadors, Vice President Mike Pence did not comment on the attack and just said that the United States would ensure the defeat of IS, also known as ISIS.
“We’ll stay in the region and we’ll stay in the fight to ensure that ISIS does not rear its ugly head again,” he said.
The bombing comes as Syrian Kurds present in areas around Manbij reject any Turkish presence in a planned “safe zone” to include Kurdish-held areas along the frontier.
Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies who Ankara views as “terrorists” on its southern flank.
Washington, which has relied heavily on the Kurds in its campaign against IS in Syria, has sought guarantees for their safety after Trump’s pullout announcement.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would set up a “security zone” in northern Syria following a suggestion by Trump.
But senior Kurdish political leader Aldar Khalil said any Turkish deployment in Kurdish-held areas was “unacceptable”.
He said the Kurds would accept the deployment of UN forces along a separation line between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops.
But “other choices are unacceptable as they infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region,” Khalil said.
Ankara has welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops from Syria, but the future of Kurdish fighters has poisoned relations between the Nato allies.
On Monday, Erdogan and Trump had a telephone conversation to ease tensions after the US leader threatened to “devastate” Turkey’s economy if Ankara attacked Kurdish forces in Syria, and called for a “safe zone”.