On Thanksgiving day, a EOD tech assigned to 5th Special Forces Group was killed in Ayn Issa, Syria. US CENTCOM (Central Command) announced yesterday that a US soldier was killed by an IED blast, but withheld further details. To understand why an American Special Forces advisor would be in Ayn Issa with the Kurdish YPG and affiliated Arab militias working under the banner of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), one need only look at a map. The road south from Ayn Issa leads straight into the ISIS capital of Raqqa.
Further West, the Kurdish YPG crossed the Euphrates river with the help of US Special Operations personnel, and took Manbij several months ago, before pushing toward Al Bab, a strategic decision which would close the Jarabulus corridor that supplies ISIS with weapons and fighters from Turkey. Such a move would also link the Kurdish canton of Kobani with the isolated and besieged canton of Afrin. Ayn Issa is linked to a separate strategic objective, capturing Raqqa and finishing off ISIS once and for all.
5th Group has been working inside Syria since President Obama announced that he was sending SOF soldiers into the country to work with SDF. Initially, Delta Force was to be deployed to Syria working under the auspices of the CIA. Delta Force is designed for surgical strikes, not long duration counter-insurgency missions or unconventional warfare, so they requested help from Special Forces.
*This article was corrected as the original version stated that the member of 5th Special Forces Group was a Green Beret rather than an attached EOD technician.
A more in depth look at the US SOF operations inside Syria, can be found below:
The 5th Group members are not allowed to engage in direct combat with ISIS, but on rare occasions have been able to participate in long-range engagements with mortar fire and sniper fire from the .50 caliber Barrett anti-material rifle. Otherwise, they are mostly confined to running the YPG through flat range drills. On SOFREP’s visit to the YPG in Syria and the PKK in Kurdistan, it was made clear that the Kurds do not desire military training from Americans, as they have their own training program, although they do appreciate being given weapons and air support.
Delta Force had also been stymied by red tape and bureaucracy as they tried to get into the fight and knock ISIS down a peg. Both hostage operations they conducted—the failed James Foley rescue and the successful prison raid in Hawija, Iraq—required presidential approval. Early into the conflict, Delta wrote up a massive concept of the operation (CONOP) for a joint operation with Iraqi Special Operations Forces. The CONOP went all the way to the White House before the lawyers spotted that several Delta members were included in the mission roster. Central Command (CENTCOM) forwarded the CONOP to the White House without even realizing it. The executive branch quickly shut the entire mission down.
Syria is a different situation for Delta because the unit works under the CIA’s Title 50 covert action authorities. The concept of “sheep dipping” active-duty military members under the auspices of the CIA is a practice that stretches back at least as far as deployments to Central American in the 1980s. Today, this arrangement is called D triple S (DSSS), standing for Defense Sensitive Support System. In effect, this means that the Delta element temporarily assigned to the CIA no longer works for the secretary of defense and the president, but rather has to answer to a comparatively low-ranking CIA station chief.
“The CAG [an alternate name for Delta] dudes were beyond pissed seeing some of the shenanigans from our people,” a CIA officer said. With the CTC at war within itself, they were both trying to prevent their own people from collecting intelligence (lest they find something threatening) and stonewalling any and all Delta Force operations from going forward against ISIS. Currently, Delta is sitting on several hundred completed targeting packets for operations they could launch. Like the more forward-leaning members of CTC and the Syrian Task Force, they want to hollow out the Baath party members within ISIS.
Delta Force wants to conduct the mission for which they were created—surgical strikes—but under CIA leadership, they are mostly stuck doing a counterinsurgency mission that they have little interest in. The Special Forces teams also feel they are providing little more than a support role in Syria, and one member described the Syria deployments as “a shit show, for lack of a better term.”
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