-- American special operations forces photographed in Syria sporting patches of a Kurdish rebel group have been ordered to remove the patches because their use was "unauthorized" and "inappropriate," U.S. military officials said today.
Photos of the service members made public Thursday had outraged the Turkish government, which believes the Kurdish rebel group to be a terrorist organization in Turkey.
“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,” said Col. Steve Warren, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
Warren said the teams in Syria had been ordered to remove the patches from their uniforms. He said he was unaware of any official disciplinary action resulting from the incident. “The bottom line and the important thing is that the situation has been corrected and that we have communicated to our allies that such conduct was inappropriate and it was unauthorized," he said.
Warren acknowledged that the special operations teams sporting the patches were likely building on past practice of bonding with the local force they were working, much as has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. "We have to understand the guys on ground are going to do what they going to do, and they have their customs and courtesies they’ve been following for years," Warren said. "But it’s also important to understand the larger strategic context, which I think that the inappropriateness of it, that they didn’t understand that or appreciate it as they should have.”
He said that had been recognized, corrected and communicated “to our allies that we felt the patches were inappropriate because they are unauthorized, plain and simple, they’re not authorized and we’ve made the correction so everyone is moving on.”
Warren said the primary role of the 200 or so advisers in Syria is to work with the Syrian Arab forces pressuring Raqqah under the umbrella group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is primarily Kurdish. They are there to advise and assist those forces with command, logistical and air support needs, as far as he knows no U.S. forces have engaged in combat firefights.
Earlier this week, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced a ground offensive intended to take areas north of Raqqah. Since the American military advisers may visit some of these forces they may be near what are "fluid" front lines. At times that could mean some of the American forces could come as close as 15 to 20 miles away from Raqqah.
But Warren stressed that American forces in Syria deliberately plan to stay away from "enemy contact" planning missions to “ensure that wherever it is they go, enemy contact is not likely or in fact is unlikely. So I think that's number one.”