World News

Bomb in Syria kills 2 members of U.S.-led coalition, including 1 American

Posted March 30, 2018 2:27 p.m. EDT
Updated March 30, 2018 3:24 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Two members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Syria were killed — one U.S. soldier and one British — and five others were wounded by a bomb in a late-night attack, the military said Friday.

The attack took place near Manbij in northern Syria and is believed to have been carried out by remnants of the Islamic State fighting force, a senior U.S. military official said.

A statement posted by the U.S. Central Command, which directs U.S. forces in the region, said “an improvised explosive device” detonated about 11 p.m. local time Thursday.

The statement did not reveal the identities of the service members involved, how seriously the survivors were hurt or where in Syria the attack occurred. The U.S.-led coalition includes about 30 countries, but only a few have forces on the ground.

“The names of the deceased will be released at the discretion of the pertinent national authorities,” the statement said. “Details pertaining to the incident are being withheld pending further investigation.”

A statement released Friday by the Ministry of Defense in London confirmed that the second soldier killed in the blast was British and that the mission was to counter fighters with the Islamic State group.

Coalition forces have been deployed to Syria to fight, alongside Kurdish militia allies, against the Islamic State. But with that force largely routed, the 7-year-old civil war in Syria has entered a dangerous new phase.

Two U.S. allies, Turkey and the Kurds, who control parts of northern Syria, are fighting each other. And the Kurds and coalition forces are engaged in a tense standoff with the Syrian government, along with its allies — Russia, Iran and Iranian-backed militias.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested the United States could pull its approximately 2,000 troops out of Syria “very soon.” The comments surprised Defense Department officials who have maintained that some kind of U.S. presence in parts of Syria may be necessary to avoid re-creating the conditions that led to the rise of the Islamic State — and also to avoid ceding influence in the country to Russia.

“Very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said during a rally in Ohio. “We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it — sometimes referred to as ‘land’ — taking it all back quickly, quickly.”

Even so, Pentagon officials in the past few months have said repeatedly that a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops could leave a void. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that while U.S. forces were no longer in “an offensive effort on the ground,” they continued to play a role. “We continue the operations in Syria,” he said.

It was unclear how the death of the U.S. service member in the newest attack would influence Trump’s thinking on a possible U.S. withdrawal. Beyond that, the Islamic State group remains in the eastern half of Syria, and Defense Department officials caution that suggestions the group has been completely routed understates the Islamic State presence in Syria.

As if to demonstrate the complexity of the situation in Syria, President Emmanuel Macron of France sought Thursday to position his country as a bridge between the Kurdish fighters and Turkey by serving as a mediator in talks — an effort that was rejected by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Macron told a delegation of that included a number of Syrian Kurds that France “honored the sacrifices and the determining role” played by Kurdish fighters in the battle against the Islamic State, which has largely been driven out of Syria, and he expressed concern about Afrin, the northern enclave where Turkey recently pushed out the Kurds.

He stopped short, however, at least in his public statements, from offering to back the Kurds militarily. It was a similar balancing act as the one taken in February by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who when asked about Turkey’s incursion in northern Syria said France had already warned it was “not acceptable to add war to war” in Syria.

Erdogan ridiculed his French counterpart Friday, saying that he met with Macron last week and that the French leader was saying “weird things” that required Erdogan to say, “Tough.”

“We don’t need a negotiator,” Erdogan said. “Since when has Turkey had an issue of sitting down at a table with terror groups? Where did you get this? You can sit down with terror groups, but Turkey fights against terror as it did in Afrin. You keep going on like this. Who do you think you are that you can utter the word negotiating between Turkey and terror groups?”