The 75th Ranger Regiment describes itself as America’s premier raid force, with the missions of direct action, special reconnaissance, and forced entry operations such as airfield seizures. However, the Ranger mission in Syria has taken a very different turn, one in which the Regiment is deployed as a political force to build rapport with allies and serve as a deterrence against aggressors, in this case a fellow NATO nation.
The Rangers first rolled into Syria back in March after quietly deploying to the Middle East with their eight-wheeled Stryker armored vehicles. In the past, US Special Forces teams working with the Kurds in Northern Syria and with dubious Arab militia groups at secret training camps in Turkey had requested the Rangers for force protection and additional fire support. Instead, when the Rangers drove into Northern Syria they cruised across the border in broad daylight with American flags prominently displayed. The deployment was a deliberate, overt act designed to show solidarity with the Kurdish YPG and YPJ as well as signaling to neighboring Turkey that it would probably not be a good idea to bomb their convoy.
By some accounts, the entire deployment of Rangers to Syria was in order to deter Turkish aggression along the Manbij front lines.
Judging by some of the real or perceived anger from the Ranger Regiment, the deployment happened in a manner which was unexpected and the Rangers did not realize that they were to be employed as a force of politics rather than in their normal direct action role. As an airborne light infantry unit, the Regiment is not outfitted or situated for clandestine deployments. Known for their “high and tight” haircuts, Rangers had to transition to regular Army hair standards in 2003 because their distinctive look readily revealed to observers which unit they belonged to.
Recent events in Syria further point towards the Rangers being utilized for political signaling rather than combat operations. In April, a fresh round of Turkish airstrikes pounded North Eastern Syria killing a number of YPG and YPJ fighters. The Turks claimed that they were striking the PKK, a Kurdish independence group that has a long running conflict with the Turkish government. With tensions strained between the United States and the Kurds, the American partner force made public statements that they would not move against ISIS in Raqqa until America stood up to Turkey and protected them. The 75th Ranger Regiment attended the funerals for those killed in the Turkish airstrikes, again with their Strykers flying the red, white, and blue.
Next, the Rangers found themselves conducting a border security mission as they patrolled along the Syrian Turkish border. By now, the OD Green Strykers had been painted Desert Tan and the Rico/Renier callsigns on the back had been removed as they clearly identified the unit as the Ranger Regiment. Throughout the Syrian conflict, the Turks have allowed Jihadists to cross their border to attack the Kurds and see Kurdish Syria (known as Rojava) as an unacceptable Kurdish presence on their southern border. The presence of Ranger Regiment Strykers on the border again signals to the Turks that America stands firmly behind the Kurds and that military incursions into Kurdish territory will not be tolerated.
The real message is that there are American troops here and that if you invade you won’t just be fighting Kurds. The second a Ranger is killed by Turkish forces, the entire dynamic of the conflict changes. They know this and they know that we know this, which is why deterrence works. This is the same reason that America stations troops in places like Lithuania and conducts large-scale training exercises in Poland or for that matter why the US Army has been in South Korea for sixty years.
But do the Rangers see this new mission as a way to find work overseas when direct action missions are not as plentiful as they have been in years past, or is the burden of political missions such as theirs in Syria best left to another unit?
(Lead image: 75th Ranger Regiment soldiers attend a Kurdish funeral on 29APR17. Courtesy of Benedetta Argentieri)