Shortly after President Donald Trump ordered U.S. troops out of Northern Syria, a pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles carried out an airstrike against the LaFarge Cement Factory base in the region, which had served as a joint U.S. Special Operations and Syrian Democratic Forces installation since it was liberated from ISIS control a bit less than three years ago. The decision to conduct the airstrike was spurred by advancing Turkish-backed forces that were not dissuaded by American shows of force conducted by Apache gunships and F-15s.
When it became clear that Turkish forces were moving to capture the abandoned installation, the decision was made to destroy it rather than allow the invading force access to munitions that had been left behind and the facility at large. Shortly after the airstrike, Col. Myles B. Caggins, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, took to the press to announce that the airstrike was part of a pre-planned strategy to limit the base’s usefulness to Turkish forces, but that claim has since been called into question.
“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,” Col. Caggins said.
It does seem unusual that American forces would plan on destroying their own base rather than allow it to fall into the hands of an ally in the form of Turkish troops. On Wednesday, Brett McGurk, the former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS under both Trump and Obama, seemed to confirm that while the strategy to conduct this airstrike did exist, it was never considered a good option. According to McGurk, bombing the site is an “emergency ‘break glass’ evacuation procedure reserved for an extreme worst-case scenario.”
It seems likely that Turkish troops interpreted Trump’s announced withdrawal as a green light to commence combat operations in the region, dramatically expediting the need to evacuate, and as a result, leaving the U.S. military with no options other than the destruction of the base and anything of value that was left behind.
The installation had actually been a secret until 2018, when U.S. special operators wearing FitBits revealed their presence to the world by tracking their workouts within the area.
Trump has faced harsh criticism from politicians and officials on both sides of the political aisle as a result of the order to withdraw from Northern Syria, which many saw as an abandonment of America’s Kurdish partners in the region that have been historically at odds with Turkey.
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