It’s no secret that Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga are among the staunchest allies the United States has in the fight against Daesh (ISIS). What’s less commonly known is American Special Operations Forces, more commonly known by their acronym SOF, work closely with Kurdish fighters. They are part of an expanding “shadow war” against Daesh that I examine in my latest piece at NRT English.
Kurdish-led forces have surrounded Raqqa, the de facto capital of Daesh/ISIS in northeastern Syria. Crucial to Daesh because it serves as a nerve-center for planning terrorist attacks abroad, it is also a potent symbol of the jihadists’ efforts to establish a caliphate.
Since I filed my column on Monday morning events have moved rapidly. Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (pictured above in a Reuters photo) held a media conference Tuesday. SDF spokesman Talal Silo told reporters and fellow fighters the “great battle to liberate the city” will be tough and bloody because Daesh “will die to defend their so-called capital.”
U.S. military officials echo that sentiment. Privately, some say they are hopeful that there might be a quicker outcome because of a better tactical situation than the Iraqi Army faced during the on-going siege of Mosul.
But no one expects Daesh to simply walk away.
Once upon a time, Donald Trump disdained U.S. international involvement and criticized his predecessors for what he considered a reckless and adventurous foreign policy. Now, his administration talks openly about the “international community” in the wake of Syrian gas attacks on its own civilians and Kim Jong Un’s threats of further nuclear tests. There is even the question of how the U.S. will continue to offer its services as a protector state to Syrian Kurds — an issue that is particularly timely because of Turkish airstrikes against the YPG. Here is my column about the evolution of Donald Trump and how it will shape American engagement in the international order.
Well, I am being a bit snarky. U.S. Special Forces have been in Syria since 2014 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. But the recent uptick in conventional forces there is significant — and under-reported in my opinion. Here is my round-up of the units now in Syria and their probable missions in the fight against Daesh/ISIS.
It’s great reporting, I’ll say that much. An article in Saturday’s Washington Post outlines many of the specifics in a plan to militarily defeat ISIS that is under review by the Trump administration. The article describes the plan as the preferred military option. There’s no word on whether it will receive final approval, but as Strykers flying U.S. flags bear down on Manbij in northern Syria it looks like there is already a more overt U.S. military presence in the fight to destroy Daesh. Here’s my analysis of the plan at NRT English.
Probably no other group has taken the fight to ISIS like the Kurds. They are staunch allies of the United States — and quite frankly, their numbers so far have kept U.S. military presence in Syria to a minimum of Special Forces advisers. But what is the future of that alliance during a Trump administration? Our support of Syrian Kurds drives Turkey (a NATO ally) nuts. Furthermore, the Russians play the U.S. and Turkey against one another over the issue. My article in Arc Digital Magazine explores everything you need to know about what comes next for the Kurds.