The fighting in Syria with the U.S. led coalition has claimed more Allied casualties. The British press has reported that two British Special Operations troops were seriously wounded in a missile attack by Islamic State fighters in eastern Syria.
The two British troops who are reported to be members of the British 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS), who, like the American and French Special Operations troops, are working with the Kurdish, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and were operating near the Al-Shafah area of eastern Deir Ezzo. Four soldiers were injured, one Kurdish fighter was killed along with the two British troops.
The troops were hit by an anti-tank missile this weekend while trying to clear the southern area of Deir Ezzo of ISIS. One SAS member was supposedly hit in the throat with shrapnel. ISIS fighters have been pushed out of the remaining part of the town but are holding on in the south. The two wounded British troops were medevaced by U.S. aircraft immediately.
With the coalition and SDF pushing the remaining ISIS presence out of Syria with the assistance of heavy artillery bombardment and air strikes from coalition aircraft, the Islamic State fighters are holding just a small swath of territory. There are reports that they’re mixing in with civilians in the area.
An SDF official told the news media, Rudaw, a Kurdish news outlet, “Due to a smart missile attack by ISIS, a fighter of the YPG [Kurdish forces] was killed and another wounded, in addition to two British soldiers.”
The British Ministry of Defence (MOD), as is their custom, refused to acknowledge any reports of British SOF. “We do not comment on Special Forces,” they released in a terse statement. However, it is a generally accepted truth that British SOF are among the coalition troops working with the SDF.
Back in March, a British soldier, Sgt Matt Tonroe of 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, was killed by an IED while embedded with US forces during an operation in Manbij, Syria.
ISIS took advantage of the chaos in the Syrian Civil War to take large amounts of territory in both Syria and Iraq where they declared its “caliphate” in 2014. They used the city of Raqqa as their de facto capital.
Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces took to Twitter where he said: “heavy clashes are taking place currently between our forces and ISIS terrorists due to an attack by ISIS on one of our points in Dier ez zor.”
He added, “everybody should be aware that ISIS is not defeated.”
That last message was no doubt geared toward the United States. Last week, President Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from Syria as ISIS had been defeated.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency,” Trump said. This move caused much consternation among both the US’ allies and within the Trump administration.
U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, and a top US official in the fight against ISIS, Brett McGurk, resigned soon after. Trump has also been roundly criticized by several former generals for this quick about-face on the Syrian situation. However, some U.S. defense department officials have stated that the withdrawal of the U.S. troops, thought to be around 2000, will be slowed down to take months rather than days and that some troops may remain.
However, the coalition has amped up their airstrikes in Syria, carrying out .469 strikes between December 16 thru December 29, which destroyed nearly 300 fighting positions, more than 150 staging areas, along with multiple supply routes, oil lubricant storage facilities, and equipment.
With their area shrinking to just the southern part of Syria along the Euphrates River and northern Iraq, with airstrikes taking an ever-increasing toll, Middle East experts believe that ISIS will revert to a rural insurgency where it will use the vastness of the desert to carry out guerrilla-style attacks.
Meanwhile, two Americans, two Pakistanis and an Irish man were among the prisoners that the Kurdish SDF captured in Syria.
The Kurds identified the men as Warren Christopher Clark (Abu Mohammad al-Ameriki) and Zaid Abed al-Hamid (Abu Zaid al-Ameriki). Clark is reportedly from the Houston area originally. Clark, according to the New York Times submitted a cover letter and a resume to ISIS seeking a position as a “teacher” with ISIS.
“Dear Director, I am looking to get a position teaching English to students in the Islamic State,” Clark reportedly wrote. “I believe that a successful teacher can understand a student’s strengths and weaknesses and is able to use that understanding to help students build on their understanding of the English language.”
U.S. coalition spokesman said that the coalition is “aware of open source reports of reportedly American citizens currently in custody believed to be fighting for ISIS.”