What is the mission of 50 American special ops troops in Syria?

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November 19, 2015

Abu Ibrahim, a military and political expert, specially for “Russian Spring”


Translated by Kristina Rus

No one will tell the truth about the mission of 50 American special ops troops in Syria in the near future.

Some, however, believe that one of their tasks
 is to direct aviation supporting the offense of forces, advancing in Al-Hasakah and Raqqah on ISIS positions.

American airforce strikes taking off from a Turkish base in Incirlik played an important role in the anti-terrorist coalition troops breaking the stubborn resistance of ISIS in the Tel-Birak.

Another natural and also announced by the State Department task of U.S. special forces is the training of “militia” fighters. This is how they call the self-defense forces and those who in other circumstances might be called militants. It’s a stretch to call them an army yet, and the popular name of “Peshmerga” traditionally refers only to the Kurds.

Americans in Raqqah and Hasakah are now implementing a project of the coalition forces from among the local Arabs — both Muslims and Christians — as well as Assyrians and various Kurdish groups. All together they are solemnly referred to as the “Union of Democratic Forces of Syria.”

However, this name is much more popular in media reports and Internet propaganda, than in real life. In reality the main strike force in the fight against ISIS are the units of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and close to them at the moment formations of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union.

In essence they are the autonomists.

Just recently, the PKK openly professed the idea of an independent socialist state of Kurdistan.

Socialist, by the way, in order not to depend on traditional Kurdish elites, who do not support the Kurdistan Workers Party. Therefore, the troops of the same Barzani, ruling in Iraqi Kurdistan, until recently, were willing to leave their brothers in blood from the PKK and the Yezidis at the mercy of the Turkish troops and the Islamists.

Currently, as you know, both Turkish troops and ISIS are fighting the PKK.

Everything is clear with ISIS, but the Turkish army recently forgot about the truce which lasted for several years. According to the Turkish side, the PKK militants violated the truce first, returning to Turkish territory from Syria and Iraq. The Kurds respond with their own accusations: the Turks supposedly for the sake of supply of  ISIS oil began bombing the Kurds in Syria, so they don’t interfere with the supplies.

As for the Syrian Kurds, they even recently had nowhere to turn. Instructors-‘volunteers’ from English-speaking countries and modest financial aid from the West and from the diaspora — is all that local units could count on while facing the advancing ISIS. Sometimes they even got American weapons, although other times it went to the terrorists. Apparently, the US wanted to maintain the parity of the parties of the conflict for some time, so as not to spoil relations with Turkey. Because for Ankara a Kurdish autonomy in a strategic area near its borders is like a knife to its neck.

In such circumstances, previously a part of the Syrian opposition, the Democratic Union of Syrian Kurds began to converge with the Kurdistan Workers Party. It was the only force that could provide serious military assistance. The West apparently didn’t mind, because it was interested not only in alliance with Turkey, but in the Kurdish barrier against the excessive proliferation of ISIS.

With the appearance of Russian planes in the Syrian sky the situation has changed dramatically. Now the US has no need to fear strengthening of one of the opposing parties at the expense of another as a result of American actions. Previously the Americans were interested in the overthrow of the Assad government, but did not want the victory of the terrorists, which is why they supported the fight of  Jabhat al-Nusra against ISIS. At the same time, the United States don’t need independent Kurdistan, at least under the version of the Kurdistan Workers Party, because it is fraught with such a crisis in relations with Turkey that it would destabilize all of Europe.

Now Russia has guaranteed the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure in Syria as well as a dialogue and a political settlement. This allows the Americans to get out of the stalemate and begin dealing with ISIS.

But for that you need infantry. Experienced, courageous and numerous infantry with good commanders. There is no force able to not just defend, but also effectively attack among the Syrian forces in the area of Hasaka-Raqqa, as Kurdish and others. Local Kurds and settled Arabs, Bedouins, Assyrians are not on the best of terms with each other, and many armed units are far from being able offer any serious resistance to such an opponent as ISIS, fighting as a regular army.

Therefore the “Union of Syrian Democratic forces” is more of a political project, then military. Peshmerga is the one fighting the most, among which dominate the groups associated with the Kurdistan Workers Party. Their goals are understandable. It’s not just about the salvation of the Kurdish people from genocide. Oil fields and transit infrastructure in Northern Syria may become the basis for the PKK in the battle against enemies such as Turkey and Iraq.

The problem is this jackpot is not located on Kurdish lands. Therefore, PKK leaders offered their units for the coalition, so it doesn’t look like expansion. On the other hand, it is possible that some of the PKK commanders agree to program minimum: Kurdish fighters take back the North of Syria from the terrorists and in return get the opportunity to live on a particular territory under international safeguards from the Turkish justice.

However, such an option should, obviously, imply that the military leaders will abandon the political loyalty to the Kurdistan Workers Party. There is a reason why the formations of Kurdish field commanders so far did not oppose now happening in the towns and villages of Hasaka replacement of PKK appointees for the candidates of the Democratic Union of Syrian Kurds and other local structures, who already reached an agreement with the Turks brokered by the US. And this despite the fact that on the other side of the Turkish border there is very active fighting between the PKK supporters and Turkish security forces.

It seems that the USA are not betting on the Kurdish autonomy, as it seems to some, but on a protectorate in the form of a small confederation based on the sharing of revenues from oil transit.

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