Coalition: No risk of US special forces confronting each other in Syria

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US special forces in Syria with insignia of the Kurdish YPG. Photo: AFP

ARA News 

A spokesperson for the US-led coalition denied a claim by the Washington Post that there is a possibility that US special forces embedded with opposing sides in Syria could confront each other near Manbij city in northern Aleppo.

Liz Sly, a Washington Post reporter, in January wrote that US advisers are present on the ground with the Turkey-backed rebels in Syria, but also with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), setting up a scenario in which US Special Operations forces embedded with opposing sides could confront one another.

“The citizens of Manbij are working together to revitalize their city and return their daily lives back to normal,” Colonel Joseph Scrocca, U.S. Army, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Director told ARA News. “US Special Forces are not conducting advise and assist missions in or around Manbij which was liberated from ISIS oppression on August 13, 2016. Nor are US forces providing advice and assistance to Turkish forces around Al Bab at this time.”

In September 2016, a small number of US special forces was driven out of the Syrian town of al-Rai, after rebel groups of the Turkish-led Euphrates Shield campaign threatened to behead the soldiers, calling them “dogs” and “pigs”.

“Certain Euphrates Shield groups, particularly Liwa al-Mutasem, deserve credit for having a good reputation with the U.S. military. The problem is that Liwa al-Mutasem is small, and it does not have the requisite influence for the foreseeable future to be a foundation group for a U.S-backed Euphrates Shield strategy,” Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, told ARA News.

“Liwa al-Mutasem was facilitating U.S. military advising role in the Euphrates Shield in late summer, then U.S. pulled out. Liwa al-Mutasem is trying to get the U.S. back in, but there is not enough trust that the Turks can provide force protection for U.S. military and they worry that Turkish-backed rebel groups will target Americans,” he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Sunday proposed that the US should send its own Special Forces to northern Syria to back the Euphrates Shield campaign after the completion of the al-Bab operation. “We are about to take back Al-Bab. After Al-Bab, we can take back Raqqa together,” Cavusoglu said.

However, these troops could be endangered by Islamist rebels as part of the Euphrates Shield operation.

Furthermore, Turkey suggested to the US to jointly attack the SDF-controlled town of Tel Abyad –that was liberated from ISIS in June 2015– cutting through territory held by the SDF to reach the city of Raqqa.

In November 2016, the US-led coalition said that they were not part of the Turkish advance towards al-Bab. “(…) the coalition has not been a part of the Turkish advance toward Al-Bab. This is a national decision that they made,” Coalition spokesperson Colonel John Dorrian said.

However in January, the coalition started to provide more air support after requests and complaints by Turkey that the US was not doing enough to support their operation.

“We continue to support them with airstrikes,” Major General Rupert Jones, UK, deputy commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said on 15 February. “Soon, we expect to see the [al-Bab] city fully liberated after weeks of heavy fighting,” he said.

On August 24, 2016, Turkey launched a military operation in northern Syria, dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield. While Turkey and its proxies easily cleared out the border from ISIS, they have failed so far to capture al-Bab and have taken heavy casualties. This while the SDF-led forces retook Manbij and are currently a few kilometers away from Raqqa city.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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