The United States has not had a clear strategy in Syria since the beginning, which has created the risk of intelligence leaking to its competitors after leaving the country, according to an anonymous US defense official quoted by the media.
Despite claims that US operations in Syria were focused on combating ISIS rather than engaging in civil war, the United States failed to prevent this. The United States’ choice to continue supporting Kurdish fighters meant that the US could no longer remain a bystander in the Syrian conflict.
While the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) do not have formal intelligence to share, they will have internal knowledge about some individuals, operating procedures or aircraft response times, said a former defense official, quoted by the Military Times
“They may be coerced. I don’t think they [SDF] will like it, but they may be in survival mode and will need to make deals with bad actors,” he said.
The new partnership for Kurdish fighters could be an intelligence boon for Russia and Syria, as the US-backed SDF has spent years working alongside US commandos evaluating tactics, techniques, procedures, equipment, intelligence gathering and even potential names of operators. In addition, the Americans helped create the Kurdish Yekineyen anti-terrorist unit to combat ISIS, which received US weapons and night-vision equipment.
While US troops have often described their SDF partners as competent and loyal, there is now a real risk that US Special Forces technical knowledge and personal information will reach Russian and Syrian hands. A former US military intelligence operator stated that the potential for the spread of sensitive information or methods by the SDF was super problematic, but also a symptom of the lack of genuine strategy in the region.
Disclosure of this information puts SOF [Special Operations Forces] at great risk and removes their focus on the mission if they know the enemy can target their family at home, retired Marine Major Fred, a former commander of reconnaissance and raid missions who served in Afghanistan, told the Military Times.
Sometimes special operations forces can work with partner forces using false names, especially if there is an internal threat, Galvin explained.
SOFs have been trying to mitigate it, they always do, but simply never before have we had a force completely defecting to their opponents in this way, the former official said.
If we believe in the anonymous US Defense official, however, the issue is no more worrying than when special operations forces deployed to Africa a few decades ago had to face a change of loyalty to partner forces on the continent.
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘Should we be committing forces to work with a national partner force without a real functional strategy in the area?'” Said the former intelligence official.
“Without a true national strategy for the region we will continue to fight issues such as changing loyalties and exposing our SOF and conventional forces working in partnership with other forces to commit to our nearest opponents,” he said.
US President Donald Trump finally put some of these notions aside on Monday, October 7, when he announced the withdrawal of Syrian troops (although a small handful of US commandos remain in al-Tanf’s garrison). Secretary of Defense Mark Esper agreed to the action using justification for the lack of a strategy in Syria.