MESOP REPORT & PICS BY „MILITARY TIMES JOURNAL“ – The U.S. military expansion in Syria: What it is — and isn’t
27 May 2016 – The Pentagon says U.S. troops in Syria are conducting an advise-and-assist mission and are not serving in front-line combat. Here, one American commando can be seen wearing a uniform patch of a Kurdish rebel group. Taken by a photographer working for Agence France-Presse, the photos show a cadre of American troops in an unarmored Toyota pickup truck mounted with a grenade launcher. At least one bearded soldier is wearing both an American flag patch and also a green patch with a star signifying the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces, known as the YPG. Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for U.S forces in Iraq and Syria, called the patch a “sign of partnership.”
But the photos could cause diplomatic tension with Turkey, a NATO ally that opposes U.S. support for the YPG. Turkey considers the YPG militia akin to the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK, a Turkey-based group that has mounted terrorist attacks in Turkey.
Close-up of the Kurdish militia patch being worn by American commandos in Syria. (Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
The patch is also significant because the United States’ nominal ally in Syria is the Syrian Democratic Forces, a recently created umbrella group that U.S. defense officials insist includes Arabs as well as Kurds. Many Syria experts, however, say the vast majority of SDF fighters are Kurdish and that few Sunni Arabs are supporting the group.
There are currently 300 U.S. special forces troops authorized to be in Syria.
The photos have raised new questions about how close these U.S. troops are to front-line combat. Cook declined to say where those troops were, citing operational security.
“They are on an advise-and-assist mission with forces that are carrying out the fight against [Islamic State militants]; trying to lend their support to them; use their skill set and their capabilities to enhance the effectiveness of those forces,” Cook said. “They are not at the front line.”
American commandos walk in the Syrian village of Fatisah, north of Raqqa, on May 25, 2016. (Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)