On the night of 22 October, a joint special operation raid occurred in the northern Iraqi city of Hawija outside of Kirkuk. American SFOD-D (popularly known as Delta Force) operatives alongside Kurdish Peshmerga assaulted an ISIS-controlled prison, rescuing 70 Kurdish and Iraqi prisoners. In the raid, Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed in action, the first American soldier killed in direct combat with ISIS. Following the announcement of the raid in Iraq, the Obama administration announced US Special Operation forces will be conducting combat operations throughout Iraq and Syria, supporting the war on ISIS. While SOF soldiers have been supporting combat operations in Iraq since the air campaign commenced against ISIS, the declaration of ground troops in combat proposes further questions to American involvement in the conflict. As history has shown, the use of Special Operation soldiers is the first step in an increased ground conflict.
The Russian military has begun deploying their own Special Operation forces to Syria in that nation’s escalation of force against rebel groups and ISIS. While the Russian’s have largely targeted rebel forces in the eastern part of Syria, recent allegations regarding the loss of the Russian airliner in the Sinai may lead to an increased deployment of Russian troops. American and British investigators reported on 4 November that the loss of Metrojet Flight 9628 appears to be the result of terrorism. ISIS initially claimed to have shot the airliner down with a surface-to-air missile. Because of the elevation of the aircraft when it began its fatal plunge, the use of man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) appears unlikely. Investigators believe a bomb or other device aboard the aircraft brought the civilian airliner down. Further investigation is needed in regard to the loss of the airliner, but if ISIS was the culprit, expect the Russians to unleash a fury of rage against the terror organization.
Despite increased force by American and Russian troops in Syria, the conflict appears far from over. The Kurds continue making headway against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but Turkish opposition and strikes against the YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) dampens strategic gains. The Iraqi army has pushed back against the ISIS onslaught in Iraq, but continued dysfunction in the ranks impedes victory. The Syrian army has begun making gains, but largely against the Syrian rebels trying to oust the Assad regime as opposed to ISIS. A direct assault against the ISIS capital of al-Raqqah would benefit the American coalition in their war on the terror group, but could only be achieved through the use of conventional ground forces. Whether the Obama administration and the coalition allies are willing to commit those resources to the fight remains to be seen.