US Special Forces join Turkish troops in Syria

Fires still burning even days after the battles ended in the Ramouseh district. The main route into government held Aleppo.

Fires still burning even days after the battles ended in the Ramouseh district. The main route into government held Aleppo.

Up to 40 US Special Operations Forces are accompanying Turkish troops as they clear ISIS from northern Syria, two US officials told CNN Friday.

The new mission, dubbed “Operation Noble Lance,” was authorized this week and is now underway, the officials added.

“US Special Operations Forces have been approved to accompany Turkish and vetted Syrian opposition forces as they continue to clear territory” from ISIS, Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said in a statement Friday.

According to Rankine-Galloway, the US personnel will be conducting the same type of advising, assisting and training missions that the US had been providing to moderate opposition and anti-ISIS Kurdish and Arab fighters like the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Turkish troops, tanks and Turkish-backed Syria opposition fighters crossed the Syrian-Turkish border in August, seizing the town of Jarabulus from ISIS and pushing south and west in an effort to clear the terror group from its border. The effort was backed by US and coalition airstrikes but not by American ground forces.

Rankine-Galloway called the area that Turkey was working to secure “strategically important” to ISIS.

A US official had told CNN last month that Special Operations Forces had initially intended to accompany the original Turkish offensive but that the US was still working on approving the proposal when Turkish units pushed across the border.

President Barack Obama has authorized up to 300 Special Operations Forces to be deployed to Syria. It was not clear if the Americans accompanying the Turkish military had been re-assigned from other locations in northern Syria or were part of a new contingent.

A video reportedly showing US troops in Syria alongside Turkish army tanks in the northern town of Al Rai recently emerged online. A senior US official said that US troops had entered the town but had since left.

The latest mission could also help ensure that Turkish troops and their Syrian allies do not come into conflict with other US-backed groups in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Turkish government considers the Kurdish elements comprising that force to be terrorists, while the US sees the Kurdish fighters as key to efforts to combat ISIS.

Clashes between the two groups took place at the start of the Turkish incursion into Syria, and the US has since helped oversee an informal arrangement under which Turkish and Kurdish forces will operate on opposite sides of the Euphrates River.

By Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne