Posted on May 27, 2016 by Editorial Staff in 1 Top News, Kurdistan
US special operations forces wearing the Kurdish YPG insignia on Islamic State frontline. Photo: AFP
SYRIAN KURDISTAN,— US Special Forces operatives have been photographed fighting alongside the Kurdish militia in Syrian Kurdistan [northern Syria] in a drive against the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa.
A photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP) took pictures of the American special operatives in what The Washington Post identified as the village of Fatisah, roughly 30 miles (48 km) north of Raqqa. The Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against Islamic State (IS) in northern Syria – identified the men as Americans.
The Kurdish led-SDF launched a push against the IS capital this week, following the secret visitto Syrian Kurdistan by General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM).
The Post’s Checkpoint blog confirmed the identification, noting that one of the images shows three men operating a 40mm Mk 47 automatic grenade launcher, a specialized weapon used by US Special Operations units.
There were more than a dozen US troops in the village, according to the photographer. The White House has admitted to the presence of up to 300 US operatives in Syria.
Some of the men can be seen wearing the YPG insignia. The powerful Kurdish militia has been responsible for most of the gains against the IS in northern Syria.
The U.S. Department of Defense on Thursday rejected questions about whether American troops are fighting with Kurdish forces on the ground against the Islamic State..
“Our special operations forces in the past have, yes, worn insignias and other identifying marks with their partner forces,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters on Thursday.
US special operations forces, Raqqa, Syria. Photo: AFP
They “do what they can to blend in with the community” and enhance their own protection, Cook said, citing operational security in refusing to confirm or deny any details about the troops involved.
“Is it appropriate for U.S. forces to be identified so closely with the YPG, given the nature of the operation in Raqqah, and the fact that it’s an Arab town?” one reporter asked Cook, who replied sternly.
“You know our policy with regard to our special operations forces, that we’re not going to talk very much about their activities, where they are and what they’re doing for obvious reasons,” the Defense spokesman said. “They’re carrying out a mission. They are exposing themselves to significant risk, and I’m not going to do anything up here that in any ways gives anyone the ability to identify where our forces are operating and what they’re up to at any moment in time. I hope you would understand that.”
Cook also ducked repeated questions from reporters on whether the troops that were supposed to advise and assist the local militia were actually taking part in combat on the front lines.
“They are not on the forward line. They are providing advice and assistance,” Cook said, adding that their “advise-and-assist role has not changed.”
Pressed to explain the distinction between the front line and the forward line, Cook replied, “I don’t have a yardstick for you. This is a fluid situation.”
The village of Fatisah is not exactly on the frontline of Kurdish operations against IS.
The SDF, formed in October 2015, has a total of about 25,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters.
The Kurdish YPG forces, which the U.S. and Russia consider an ally in the fight against Islamic State, are the most effective group fighting IS in Syria, as the Kurdish militia has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.
Syria’s Kurds on March 17, 2016 declared a federal region in Syrian Kurdistan, in the country’s north.