Ilham Ahmed, a co-president of the Democratic Council of Syria, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post on 28 April addressing the recent Turkish bombing of Kurdish forces.
“On Tuesday, Turkey bombed the headquarters of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, killing 20 of our soldiers. Immediately after the strike, the leaders of our forces — known as the People’s Protection Groups, or YPG — rushed from their operations center near Raqqa, where they’ve been working with the U.S. military to push the Islamic State out of its Syrian stronghold, to view the site of the attack. The American colonel and other officers who accompanied the YPG leaders were met by tens of thousands of protesters, including the mothers of soldiers who have died fighting the Islamic State. They asked the Americans a simple question: “How is it possible that our soldiers are fighting with you against ISIS while your ally Turkey is attacking us here?”” (WaPo)
Not long after this piece appeared, the twittersphere came alive with reports, photos and videos of US troops moving to the Turkish-Syrian border. Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, a freelance journalist reporting out of Erbil, said this. “According to Kurdish journalist Heybar Othman three US army groups will spread on the border. First group on Derbisiye Serikaniye area, second on Derbisiye-Tal Abyad area, and third on Kobani and Tal Abyad area.”
Lizzie Phelan, an RT correspondent reporting from Syria, also noted the troop movements and offered some 140 character analysis. “US troops are patrolling Kurdish areas on border with Turkey and have set up base in Darbasiya that was attacked two days ago by Turkish army. So despite the apparent silence from Washington in the face of ongoing attacks on the YPG, this is a clear message. Three possible scenarios: 1. US confident their presence will stop Turkish attacks 2. They're US forces are at risk of being "collateral damage" from TSK attacks, or… 3. They have an agreement from Turkey about which YPG held areas they can attack.”
Then things started getting truly interesting. Mete Sohtaoğlu, a journalist and researcher based in Istanbul, tweeted this. “Massive Turkish Armed Forces reinforcements have arrived in Sanliurfa near Syrian border opposite side of Tal Adyad.” Mutlu Civiroglu, a Syrian and Kurdish affairs analyst, tweeted along with a link to a YouTube video. “ANHA reports YPG responded to Turkish attacks on west of Tal Abyad by destroying a radar system and tank.”
Twitter is a good place to identify indicators, but it is also a damned good place to be bamboozled by wild rumors and deliberate propaganda. The presence of videos from sources who have established a reliable reputation helps. I also look for official statements from military spokesmen, but in this era of pervasive information operations, even that has to be examined carefully. In this case Colonel John Dorrian, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, confirms the presence of US troops along the border.
“WASHINGTON—American forces have started patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to prevent further clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters that have undermined the fight against Islamic State, U.S. officials said Friday.
The patrols are part of a far-reaching American effort to prevent the rival forces from targeting each other as the U.S. prepares to launch a major effort to drive Islamic State from its largest Syrian stronghold.
“U.S. forces are patrolling in Northern Syria to maintain stability in the area and prevent incidents that could divert efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria,” said Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition against Islamic State, also known as ISIS.” (WSJ)
So what are we to make of this? I can’t tell what unit is at the border. There are unmarked Strykers prominently flying American flags. I’ve seen no distinctive markings on the troops either, although I do see some non-standard uniform items. My guess is that they are from one of the Ranger battalions feeling their special operations oats. (Everybody wants to be an operator.) It was Rangers in Strykers riding around Manbij a while back. They appear to be working side-by-side with YPG troops in their Toyota pickups.
Are these US troops prepared to call in airstrikes on attacking Turkish forces or are are they just window dressing to assuage our Kurdish partners? We need them to continue the assault on Raqqa and can’t afford to have them abandon that offensive to face their Turkish enemies. We also need them to establish our “safe area” which we want as badly as the Saudis. I get the sneaking suspicion we will, once again, cruelly use and abandon the Kurds. The only difference is this time it is the Rojava Kurds who will feel our perfidy. Perhaps the Russians will take note of this and seek to insert themselves between the Rojava Kurds and their American “benefactors.”
I can only imagine what’s going through the minds of my Special Forces brethren who stood by the YPG since the lean days.