US Special Operations forces are accompanying Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition partners for the first time against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants inside Syria, the Pentagon said in a statement on Friday.
US-Turkey tensions rose last month following clashes between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters in northern Syria. Turkey does not want the YPG west of the Euphrates River due to their links with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The US’s NATO ally Turkey was angered when the US supported YPG militia, which has been the most effective US partner in fighting ISIL in Syria.
Explaining the new US role with Turkish troops in Syria, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said the US forces are advising and providing other assistance to Turks who are clearing territory on the Syrian side of Turkey’s border between the Syrian towns of Jarabulus and Ar Rai.
“Access to the Turkey-Syria border region is strategically important to ISIL’s operations in Syria and Iraq as well,” Davis said.
While US forces have been providing assistance to other Syrian opposition groups — such as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — this is the first time that US troops have performed this role alongside Turkish troops. The number of US troops working with the Turks was not mentioned, but some have said it was approximately a few dozen.
They are among 300 US troops authorized by President Barack Obama to provide training, advice and assistance inside Syria as part of the broader military campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.