PHOTO: US special forces with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria, May 26
UPDATE 1845 GMT: A “military source” has pulled back US claims of Turkish support for an offensive against the ISIS-held territory around the town of Manbij.
The source said Ankara has been notified but cannot endorse it because of the involvement of the Kurdish militia YPG and because of the area is beyond the range of Turkish artillery.
“Turkey has no contribution to the support that the U.S. gives to the YPG in Syria’s Manbij region. Turkey was informed by the United States about the operation, but any contribution is out of the question,” the source said.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: US officials have said that a long-awaited offensive against the Islamic State in northern Syria has begun.
The officials told Reuters on Tuesday that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have launched operations to capture the area near Manbij.
They said that the occupation of the territory would cut off ISIS access to areas on the Turkish-Syrian border. “It’s significant in that it’s their last remaining funnel [to Europe],” a US military official said.
The sources said a “small number” of US special forces will be involved as advisors, albeit at “some distance” from the frontlines.
“They’ll be as close as they need to be for the [SDF] to complete the operation. But they will not engage in direct combat,” one official said.
The officials added that the operations will be supported not only by US-led airstrikes but also cross-border artillery from Turkey.
“Few Kurds Involved”
However, the officials said the Kurdish militia YPG, the dominant force in the SDF, will have little involvement.
They declared that the YPG will only fight to help clear ISIS from the area around Manbij, while Syrian Arab elements of the SDF will secure the town.
“After they take Manbij, the agreement is the YPG will not be staying … So you’ll have Syrian Arabs occupying traditional Syrian Arab land,” an official said.
The statement is designed to reassure Turkey, which views the YPG as led by the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
For months, Turkish and American officials have negotiated over the possibility of a Manbij offensive, following the SDF’s crossing of the Euphrates River to the east in December.
Ankara had said that the Euphrates was a “red line” for expansion of Kurdish-controlled territory in northeast Syria. However, with the success against ISIS, the YPG and allies hold a 400-km (250-mile) strip of territory along the Turkish border.
Since the SDF was formed last October, the US had switched almost all of its support from Syrian rebels to the Kurdish-led force, providing arms, ammunition, and special forces.
Last week, as the SDF launched a probing operation about 60 km (37 miles) north of the Islamic State’s center of Raqqa city, American special forces were photographed in the offensive. One solder sported the badges of both the YPG and the Kurdish women’s militia YPJ.
After Turkish objections, the Pentagon said days later that wearing the badges was a mistake and would not be repeated.