FP situation report, Se också länk.
We see you. In a slow-motion escalation of U.S. involvement in Syria, the number of U.S. Special Operations forces on the ground there has increased from the 50 that President Barack Obama authorized late last year, to about 300. And while the Pentagon has insisted they’ll stay buttoned up well behind the front lines advising local Kurdish and Arab rebels, we’ve seen that the line between advising and fighting can be erased pretty quickly.
On Thursday, a photographer caught a team of American commandos a few dozen miles north of the Islamic State’s HQ of Raqqa, bristling with weapons and wearing Kurdish YPG patches while out and about with the Kurds. FP’s Paul McLeary rounds up the pics, noting that the patches would anger the Turkish government since the Kurds, known as the YPG, have long been accused by the Turkish government of being terrorists. And in fact, on Friday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the U.S. “two-faced” and said the practice of working with the Kurds was “unacceptable”
What’s the mission? Gen. Tony Thomas, who took over at the U.S. Special Operations Command in March, said earlier this week that the mission for the commandos he trains and equips has been complicated by the uncertain nature of the mission they’re undertaking in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They’re officially acting in an advise and assist role, and can take part in combat only in self-defense.
Since October, however, a Navy Seal, a Delta Force soldier, and a Green Beret have been killed in firefights with ISIS, something the Pentagon and White House have tied themselves in knots trying not to call combat. When Delta’s Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was killed near Kirkuk in October in a firefight with ISIS, he was “riding the edge of advising and assisting,” Thomas said, since Wheeler’s job was to support Kurdish commandos, but he ended up joining the fight when the Kurds ran into trouble.
We know it when we see it. On Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the U.S. troops in Syria “are not on the forward line,” acknowledging that there is actually no “specific measurement” or definition for what any forward line might be. Got it.