In recent combat operations against ISIS in northern Syria, US special operation forces have begun supporting Turkish troops participating in Operation Euphrates Shield. The Turkish offensive began in late August 2016. The American supported effort has been dubbed Operation Noble Lance, and while the number of personnel supporting the Turkish offensive is unclear, it has been estimated to be less than 50 special operation soldiers. While the US and Turkey have remained close allies, complications may arise after it was reported the Obama administration was weighing the option to provide Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with weapons and training on 21 September 2016. While Turkey has stated its operations in Syria are focused on defeating ISIS, there have been a number of clashes between the SDF and Turkish military.
Both Iraq and Syrian Kurdish forces have made considerable gains against ISIS in the region. Despite their success on the battlefield, the Kurds remained marginalized. The Iraqi government has recently declared the Peshmerga would not participate in the future operation to liberate Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city, and currently under ISIS control). Mosul has largely been cut off from supplies and reinforcements in Syria, as Peshmerga forces have retaken key cities in northwestern Iraq. With these lines of communication cut, it will be difficult for ISIS to defend Mosul.
While US relations with the Kurds remain warm, the same cannot be said of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels. During a recent operation in the town of al-Rai, a city north of Aleppo, FSA fighters refused to participate with American forces. One fighter declared “[W]e do not accept Americans fighting with us” and referred to the special operation soldiers as “dogs” and “pigs.” A video was later released showing the Americans withdrawing their forces from the town. Despite their opposition to fighting alongside the Americans, it will be difficult to clear the city without the aid of American airpower (special operations personnel provide joint terminal attack controller support).