Earlier this week, the Special Air Service (SAS) mounted a raid against an Islamic State (ISIS) fortified position near the village of al-Shaafa in eastern Syria. According to the scant available information—the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) declines to comment on any inquiries about the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF)—the SAS assault force was comprised of around 30 operators, to include assaulters and snipers. Catching the jihadis completely unawares, the SAS raiding force managed to kill approximately 20 ISIS fighters as they attempted to flee the battlefield in vehicles.
The operation was a retaliatory strike for the serious wounding of two SAS operators by ISIS mortar strikes earlier in January. Although in critical condition, the two British commandos are expected to survive. The SAS operators were supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are predominantly comprised of Kurdish fighters, as they attacked close to the towns of Ash-Sha’Fah and Hajin.
Subject to the relentless pounding of coalition airstrikes and SDF attacks, ISIS’ hold in eastern Syria has shrunk to only a few small enclaves. On Wednesday, January 23, the SDF—supported by coalition special operations forces (SOF)—captured the village of Baghouz, one of the last ISIS strongholds in the area.
“Search operations are continuing in Baghouz to find any ISIS militants who are still hiding,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “The SDF will now have to push on into the farmland around Baghouz.”
Around 500 ISIS fighters, however, managed to escape.
The UKSF is comprised of the SAS, the Special Boat Service (SBS), the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, and the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). The 21 and 23 SAS Regiments are Territorial Army units (the reserves) and are attached to the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Brigade. The lone SAS operator who almost singlehandedly fought the al-Shabaab terrorists in Nairobi last week came from the 23 SAS.
The U.S-led international SOF joint task force supporting the SDF is approximately 2,000 strong. It includes SOF units from around the globe, including the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and the Canadian Joint Task Force 2 (JTF-2), as well as the French 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (1er R.P.I. Ma) and the 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment (13e RDP)—both tier-one units.
Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s published intention to pull all American forces from Syria, it appears that most of the international partners will stay put to ensure ISIS doesn’t have the opportunity to resurge and that the Kurds don’t become targets of Turkish expansionism.