US conducts airstrike on weapons storage site as troops pull out of Syria
Posted October 16, 2019 7:01 p.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2019 7:33 p.m. EDT
CNN — Two US Air Force F-15 jets conducted an airstrike targeting an American munitions storage bunker at a US base in Syria Wednesday in order to prevent the munitions and other equipment from falling into the hands of armed groups, two US defense officials told CNN.
"On Oct. 16, after all Coalition personnel and essential tactical equipment departed, two Coalition F-15Es successfully conducted a pre-planned precision airstrike at the Lafarge Cement Factory to destroy an ammunition cache, and reduce the facility's military usefulness," US Army Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the US-led military coalition fighting ISIS, confirmed in a statement Wednesday.
A US defense official told CNN that no other forces were nearby at the time. Had they been, it's possible the decision to bomb the munitions might have been aborted because it might have been perceived as an attack on whatever forces were nearby.
This is the first known instance where the US has had to destroy equipment as it conducts a rapid pullout from northern Syria, following President Donald Trump's withdrawal order which was announced Sunday in the face of an expanding Turkish military offensive targeting America's one-time allies in the fight against ISIS, the Syrian Kurds.
The strike took place at the US military compound at the Lafarge Cement Factory, which is located between Kobanî and Ain Issa and is close to the Turkish border. The compound served as "the headquarters of the de facto Defeat-ISIS coalition in Syria" prior to its being vacated.
On Tuesday Caggins said that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces "set fire to, then vacated, its facilities and equipment" as "Turkish-backed militias advanced towards the Lafarge Cement Factory."
Scramble to withdraw
A senior US military official told CNN Wednesday that US forces in northern Syria had pulled out of all locations in the country to consolidate at a location near Kobani where they will be air lifted out in the coming weeks, leaving behind several former US military bases.
The US troops that have been consolidated near Kobani had been re-deployed from various locations, to include areas as far south as Tabqa and Raqqa.
Pro-Bashar Al Assad regime forces are believed to have moved into Raqqa, the one-time ISIS capital, in the wake of the US departure, the official added. Russian forces have already occupied a former US military post in the northern town of Manbij.
CNN reported Tuesday that the first planeloads of US weapons and equipment have left Syria, according to another US defense official.
The military has made a concerted effort to remove all sensitive equipment as former military compounds fall into the hands of Russian, Syrian regime and Turkish-led proxy forces.
US officials have expressed concerns that the Turkish-led and backed militias attacking Kurdish groups in Syria are comprised of extremist elements and could pose a threat to US troops.
Other US officials have accused the irregular Turkish forces, referred to by the US as Turkish Supported Opposition, of carrying out possible war crimes and threatening US troops in the area, with one senior administration official referring to them as "thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth."