In 2015, SOFREP interviewed Polad Talabani, the commander of Kurdistan’s elite Counter-Terrorism Group or CTG. At the time, he spoke about how he wanted his men to get back to conducting real Special Operations missions behind enemy lines, rather than engaging in conventional infantry operations alongside the Peshmerga as they had been in places like Kirkuk and Halabja. With the recent capturing of the Tabqa Dam in Syria, it now appears that CTG’s commander has had his wish come true.
For months, the Kurdish YPG and YPJ militia have been steadily closing the noose around the ISIS capital city of Raqqa, encircling it and cutting it off from logistics lines. Yesterday, US Osprey tilt rotor aircraft ferried Kurdish forces and American military advisors behind ISIS front lines and launched an air assault operation that captured the strategic Taqba Dam. From the Hwacheon Dam in the Korean War to the Haditha Dam in Operation Iraqi Freedom (both assaulted by Rangers) these structures play an important role in military operations. The enemy can open the gates on the dam and flood everything down river, wiping out bridges and military units.
The Tabqa Dam operation is similar to the capture of Manbij the previous year in which Delta Force operators escorted the YPG/YPJ across the Euphrates river on American zodiac rafts. The United States Special Operations community provides the advisors and the infiltration platforms, while the locals do the heavy lifting. The arrival of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Kurdish held northern Syria should also have been a tip off as assaulting a large target like a dam or a airfield is a Ranger mission, as previously mentioned.
While the media has made a lot of noise about the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which encompasses the YPG/YPJ and Arab militias who have joined forces with them, photographs emerging from Northern Syria and Kurdistan indicate that the Kurdish militia has also been augmented by the Counter-Terrorist Group (CTG) stationed at the Faranday military base in Sulaymaniyah which is located in Iraqi Kurdistan.
CTG has it’s origins in Operation Viking Hammer in which Kurdish forces assaulted Ansar Al-Islam positions with 10th Special Forces Group just prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom kicking off. Polad Talabani and his brother Lahur (who runs the PUK intelligence service in Kurdistan) saw the value of continuing to maintain a Kurdish counter-terrorism unit. CTG had some of the best mentors and trainers in the world including Delta Force, 22 SAS, the the Central Intelligence Agency’s ground-branch para-military service. Working hand in glove with American Special Operations, CTG conducted raids across Iraq hunting down High Value Targets, including a hostage rescue mission with Delta operators in Kirkuk at one point.
The following picture shows CTG and American Special Operations personnel staging at Faranday, near the CTG compound and getting on V-22 Osprey aircraft. This was most likely a mission rehearsal or preparation to begin their movement into Syria airspace.
The next picture depicts the Palod Talabani celebrating Kurdish new year in Kobane, located in Kurdish Syria. The PUK back in Kurdistan is generally on good terms with the PKK, of which the YPG/YPJ is an off-shoot. Therefore, CTG has had a good relationship with their Kurdish brothers and sisters in Syria. When President Obama decided to air drop weapons and ammunition to the YPG/YPJ in Kobane in 2014 at a time when the city was under siege, it was Talabani who flew to Kuwait and helped put the pallets together before they were parachuted into Syria by US military aircraft.
Utilizing CTG to capture the dam also makes sense when one considers the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by the unit as opposed to the YPG and YPJ. The Kurdish militias in Syria see themselves as guerrilla fighters. They practice the art of infiltration and encirclement. By ambushing from close range, these guerrillas also attempt to overcome the enemy’s defenses. These tactics are in many ways antithetical to US Special Operations tactics. The members of CTG are not guerrillas, they are operators making them the perfect choice for a large scale air assault mission. The militias were likely flown in behind the main assault force of US SOF and CTG to maintain security and consolidate gains.
The capture of Tabqa Dam further isolates Raqqa and prepares the battle space for Rojda Felat, the female YPJ commander in charge of the overall operation. Polad Talabani told SOFREP a few years ago, “if I knew where Al-Baghdadi was, I would fly in and kill him tonight.” Soon, he may get his chance.
A in-depth profile about Kurdistan’s CTG can be found here.
(Pictures curtesy of Twitter)