— -- American special operations forces have begun working with Turkish forces and Turkish-supported forces who are fighting ISIS in northern Syria, the Pentagon said today.
"At the request of the government of Turkey, U.S. special operations forces are accompanying Turkish and Vetted Syrian Opposition forces as they continue to clear territory from ISIL in and around the area of the Syrian border near Jarabulus and Ar Rai," said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. ISIL is another name used to describe ISIS.
"U.S. personnel operating with Turkish forces and Syrian opposition forces will provide the same train, advise and assist support they have been providing to other local partners in Syria fighting ISIL," Davis said.
Up to 300 American special operations forces have been operating inside of Syria in a similar train, advise and assist mission with the Syrian Kurdish and Arab rebel force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S. officials said "several dozen" special operations forces would be involved in the new mission to support the Turkish forces.
In late August, Turkey provided tanks, airstrikes and special operations to assist Turkish-supported rebel groups that pushed into the ISIS-held border town of Jarabulus and quickly captured the city.
Some of those Turkish-supported forces soon engaged in clashes as they pushed south of Jarabulus and ran into Syrian Kurdish forces. The United States worked with both sides to stop the fighting and re-focus on the fight against ISIS.
A U.S. official said the American special operations forces would assist the Turks in a push towards the city of Dayiq that is of symbolic value to ISIS. The small number of American troops working with Turkish special operations forces and Turkish-supported rebels will also help provide greater awareness of the battlefield situation in northern Syria that could help prevent future conflict with Syrian Kurdish forces, U.S. officials said.
Video that appeared on social media today appeared to show U.S. special operations troops being heckled by Syrian rebels in the town of Ar Rai, 35 miles west of Jarabulus. Reports on social media indicated that the American special operations forces shown in the video were forced to withdraw from the town in their vehicles because of the negative reception they received.
The American troops in the video are the ones that had just begun to work with Turkish forces and Turkish-supported rebel fighters, according to a U.S. official, noting that the rebels had not yet received word from their leadership that they would be working with the American forces. The official said the matter has been resolved.
In recent days, American special operations forces in northern Syria came under small arms fire while accompanying Syrian Democratic Forces in the small border town of Tel Abyad, located 50 miles east of Jarabulus.
The fire was coming from the Turkish side of the border so the small number of American forces decided to raise an American flag to halt the firing, according to U.S. officials. When the fire continued, the American forces pulled away from Tel Abyad, no American forces were injured by the small arms fire.
Syrian Kurdish forces have raised American flags in the past, a move that has drawn complaints from Turkey, according to a U.S. official. Early Turkish media reports of this incident indicated it was Syrian Kurdish forces raising the American flag.