Coalition Forces Advance toward Raqqa, Shoulder Patch Creates Controversy
Update: the Pentagon has officially banned US troops from wearing the YPG insignia.
“Wearing those YPG patches was unauthorized, and it was inappropriate and corrective action has been taken. And we have communicated as much to our military partners and our military allies in the region.” Col Steve Warren.
Please note his earlier tweet below. A little politics going on.
Photos emerged from AFP (Agence France-Presse) showing US troops in unarmored gun trucks, wearing the insignia of the YPG- Kurdish fighters- as they advanced toward the ISIS held city of Raqqa, Syria. The photos ignited a flurry of denials and explanations, as Turkey slammed the pictures, calling them “unacceptable.”
— COL Steve Warren (@OIRSpox) May 26, 2016
In combat or not?
The Pentagon has insisted that the 300 troops in Syria are “not on the front lines” and not in a “combat” role.
Military Times reported,
The images were taken in a village about 40 miles north of the Islamic State group’s self-declared capital of Raqqa, which is the target of a newly announced offensive being led by a disparate group of Kurdish and Arab fighters, and backed by American military advisers and air support. They highlight the complicated network of alliances the U.S. is trying to forge in Syria, and the ethnic and sectarian tensions that could tear apart this fragile coalition…
“Special operations forces, when they operate in certain areas, do what they can to, if you will, blend in with the community to enhance their own protection, their own security.” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.
And the Pentagon insists that in spite of what the images depict, the Americans are “not on the forward line.” Yet the AFP report begs to differ:
“However, in the Agence France-Press report, a commander for the Syrian Democratic Forces said U.S. operators are “present at all positions along the front… They are taking part on the ground and in the air.”
The international relations problem
Turkey hates the YPG, and is basically at war with the PKK, which is another Kurdish group that they view as “terrorists.” The Syrian Defense Force is made up of Kurds, Syrian militias, and the US.
The SDF is comprised of mostly Kurdish fighters and Syrian militia groups and is the primary partner for the U.S. effort against ISIS. This new offensive has taken them within 40 miles of the ISIS stronghold. U.S. and coalition aircraft are supporting the effort with airstrikes in and around Raqqa.
SDF’s strongest component, the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), will not advance on the capital city itself. The Kurdish leadership believes Raqqa should be captured by Arab militias. Thirty thousand SDF troops moved to retake vast areas northwest of the city, but the assault on Raqqa will have to wait until the Arab militias have the strength.
The photographs of US forces wearing YPG patches created a firestorm of anger from the Turkish government. Though the practice is normal, Turkey didn’t see it that way.
[It makes sense, from a practical and safety point of view to put on a patch that helps the Green Berets blend in with their coalition counterparts. However, they made on rather embarrassing mistake: according to the Business Insider, the YPJ is the all female brigade of the YPG. Hey, nobody’s perfect.]
Of course, when faced with their anger, the government reportedly backed off, stating the wearing of the patch was “unauthorized and inappropriate.” Well, which is it?
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) May 26, 2016
After Turkey complains, the Pentagon’s @OIRSpox says US troops wearing badges of the Kurdish YPG was “unauthorized” & “inappropriate”.
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) May 27, 2016