President Obama has announced that 50 special operations personnel will be deployed to northern Syria, a region the Kurds call Rojava. This of course ignores that fact that small numbers of American, British, French, and perhaps several other countries’ special operations personnel have already been in and out of Syria. Nonetheless, as it appears U.S. Special Forces ODAs, 12-man elements tailor-made for unconventional warfare, are deploying to Syria, it may be worth writing a primary on what they can expect to find when they arrive there.

In my own experience, linking up with the Kurdish militia in Syria very closely mimicked the Robin Sage exercise Special Forces soldiers complete at the end of the Special Forces Qualification Course. The environment that ODAs will find themselves in when they reach Rojava will be challenging, but they have certainly been trained for it.


The two armed forces that have been fighting in Rojava are militia offshoots of the PKK.  These groups are called the YPG and YPJ. Unlike Western armies, the Kurds have a unique approach to gender equality that stresses the notion of separate but equal. To that end, women have their own fighting force seperate from the men, one particular to females called the YPJ. The men’s militia is called the YPG. “YPJ and YPG are exactly the same; the only difference is one has all vaginas and one has all penises. They work as a cohesive single unit,” an American who served in the YPG told SOFREP.

YPJ women celebrate together when two of their members return from the front lines to their base Tel Cochar in Rojava, Syria, November 20, 2014. All the women are a part of an elite sniper unit, whose efforts have been instrumental in driving back ISIS.

Additionally, the United States has cobbled together a new coalition in northern Syria called the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes elements of the Free Syrian Army. That said, the FSA has proven ineffective and unreliable, while the YPG and YPJ have shown themselves to be secular, democratic, and effective on the battlefield.


“Languages are primarily the Kurmancî dialect of Kurdish and some Turkish and Arabic,” the foreign fighter in the YPG told SOFREP. There are some English-speaking Kurds, but many have been killed during the course of the war. Also, many Kurds from the overseas diaspora have returned to help the war effort, so you will also encounter German- and French-speaking Kurds in the YPG and YPJ.


Northern Syria is flat as a pancake, aside from the Kurdish-held canton of Afrin in northeast Syria. Battles are fought from villages to villages, which are called gunes. Urban operations are also a function of man-made terrain, and heavy fighting has taken place in built-up areas like Kobani. Although Rojava is easy to navigate by road, or off-road with appropriate vehicles, the climate during the winter adds serious mobility challenges.