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US Special Forces Are Secretly Fighting Alongside Syrian Rebels

They're raiding ISIS positions in the south to try and carve out more of southern Syria for themselves and their proxies

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Journalists hired by BuzzFeed (Mitch Prothero with help from Nancy Youssef) revealed that US special forces are operating inside Syria next to the rebels they're training. US never made a secret of its personell working inside Syria alongside the Kurdish-dominated SDF coalition but it never announced its soldiers were fighting with the rebels as well. 

This is not a huge surprise however, since the British SAS was previously photographed operating alongside the rebels in question. It appears now US forces have taken over, or have been doing the same from the start. 

The rebels that US if fighting alongside were trained in Jordan and now oppose ISIS in the southern Syrian Desert. These are very small and relatively week outfits that could do little without constant US hand-holding. Most likely they are what remains of the ill-fated New Syrian Army which was disbanded last December when most of its members lost the will to carry on the fight. 


US Special Forces are deployed in southern Syria as part of an operation to train and assist Syrian rebels fighting ISIS, according to rebel leaders and current and former US military officials.

A source in the US-backed coalition battling ISIS also provided BuzzFeed News with photos of what appeared to be these Special Forces soldiers working with the rebels, though it was unclear if they were taken in the field or during a training exercise.

The deployment — which a military contractor working with the coalition said has been ongoing for about six months — is centered on a secret base called Tanf near the Iraqi border. Experts say the region, which stretches along Jordan and Iraq, is a developing center of gravity for ISIS as it loses territory elsewhere.

US commandos there are training and mentoring two pro-Western rebel groups while also accompanying them on combat missions as part of the anti-ISIS campaign developed under then-President Barack Obama and continued by the Trump administration.

“They’re sleeping over multiple days at a time,” the contractor said, speaking on condition of anonymity to have the freedom to discuss a previously secret deployment freely. “In the past there had been a 10-day limit on how long an individual [US] unit can stay [inside Syria], but that is either lifted [already] or will be shortly.” A US defense official told BuzzFeed News that he was unaware of any such scheduling or subsequent changes to troop rotations.

One of the groups calls itself Maghaweir Al-Thowra:

Mohannad Ahmed al-Tallaa, the commander of the rebel battalion stationed at Tanf, said they began working with US troops at the base late last year. A former officer in an elite Syrian army unit, he defected early in the civil war and has been a vital player in the rebel fight in Deir Ezzor, a province in eastern Syrian that has become a major ISIS stronghold. He created the battalion, called Maghaweir Al-Thowra, or Commandos of the Revolution, with the aim of working with the US-backed coalition to free Deir Ezzor from ISIS, he said, adding that he and his men now live with their US partners. “I’m sitting with them right now,” he said when reached by phone on Tuesday night; men with American accents could be heard speaking English in the background.

Tallaa said the US had provided his battalion with “good weapons,” though not tanks, and that the coalition has backed them with airstrikes. He also said the US troops accompany the battalion on operations regularly. “In general they make the plans with us and they come with us on the operation in the second line. If we need support in the first line, then they come and support us there,” he said. “And sometimes ISIS [attacks] from other directions, and [the US troops] stop them.”

“The Americans are really good fighters, and they know how to implement the strategy,” Tallaa added. “I’m proud to fight beside them.

The other, Shuhada al-Qaryatayn, tells the same story: 

A rebel official who works closely with the US in southern Syria said that US troops have also participated in operations in the region alongside a second rebel group, called Shuhada al-Qaryatayn, which is based not far from Tanf. He described the support the US troops bring to rebels in the field as varied. “How to deal with the suicide bombs. How to deal with mines,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive US military operations. “How to move across difficult terrain. Where to use their night vision. How to do the logistics. Just experience. They’re experts.”

Pentagon spokesman himself says they're supposedly not there to fight, but of course they do:

Maj. D. Allen Hill, the director of public affairs at US Special Operations Command Central, which supports Syria and Iraq, described the engagements of US troops on operations in southern Syria as complex and occasionally kinetic. “Advising and assisting is not limited to training,” he said by email. “It’s providing guidance and supporting them with the enablers such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, logistics, medical and close air support assets available as needed to assist them in accomplishing their mission.”

“They’re not out there directly engaging the enemy,” he added. “They are within their rights to defend themselves as necessary. The battlefield is fluid and the safety of our forces, and of our partnered forces is a priority. … They're partnering alongside them, but they're not directly involved in offensive operations where they are securing and holding key terrain.

Approximate zone of US-rebel activity in the south
Approximate zone of US-rebel activity in the south

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