Find a Security Clearance Job!

Military


Operation Noble Lance
('Asil Mizrak Operasyonu')

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center's quarterly report from September 2017, there were 1,720 American troops in Syria, three times as many as the 503 troops in Syria that US military officials have told reporters. The US forces in Syria were not numerous enough to wage an all-out war against the Syrian army. However, it remained difficult to attack them directly, because of the ability of the United States for reprisal. The Turks claimed that there are now 13 US bases in the country, some of which appeared to be permanent. The US and the coalition never stopped arms supplies, despite earlier reports that Donald Trump promised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to end deliveries to the Syrian Kurds.

A contingent of 400 US Marines arrived in northeast Syria 08 March 2017 to provide artillery support for local forces in an upcoming assault on Raqqa. A contingent from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed in northern Syria within 32 kilometer artillery range of Raqqa. The unit was equipped with M777 Howitzers, capable of firing 155mm shells. This deployment mirrored a similar move in 2016 in Iraq when artillery-equipped US Marines arrived ahead of the start of the assault to take Mosul, in order to provide covering fire for Iraqi security forces.

This deployment marked an escalation of US military involvement in Syria. Several hundred Special Operations troops had been advising the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces. In early March 2017, a hundred US Rangers, deployed in Manbij in a bid to deter clashes between YPG fighters and Turkish-led rebels. A small number of other American soldiers were assisting Special Operations troops in Syria with the truck-mounted High Mobility Artillery Rocket System [HIMARS] and with medical and other logistical support.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said 26 January 2017 it will be important to first see the results of studies that Trump is expected to order from the Pentagon and State Department about instituting zones where civilians in Syria could be safe from the country's ongoing conflict. In Russia, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the Russian government has not been consulted by Trump's administration. He added that all of the potential consequences of a no-fly zone need to measured first, and that "it's important not to exacerbate the situation with refugees."

Russia received coordinates of Daesh targets in Al-Bab, Aleppo Province, from the US via the 'direct line,' the Russian Defense Minsitry said 23 January 2017. The United States provided coordinates of the terrorists' targets in the city of Al-Bab in Aleppo province for Russian airstrikes. After the reconaissance check, Russia and two coalition jets conducted joint airstrikes on the Daesh targets in the region. "On January 22, the Russian command center at the Hmeymim airbase has received coordinates of Daesh targets in Al-Bab, Aleppo province, via the 'direct line' from the US-led coalition headquarters. After further data verification with the assistance of unmanned aircraft and space reconaissance, the Russian Aerospace Forces and two jets of the international coalition have conducted airstrikes on the terrorists' targets," the statement said.

Later, US Department of Defense spokesperson Adrian Rankine-Galloway said that the the United States has not coordinated counterterrorism strikes in Syria with Russia. "The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria," Rankine-Galloway said.

On 08 December 2016 Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii, is the first Hindu member of Congress. Gabbard served in the military and has held office in Hawaiis state legislature and in the Honolulu City Council. She is not of Indian origin. A veteran of the Iraq War and major in the Hawaii National Guard, Gabbard has long been committed to peace and ending counterproductive, interventionist wars, her spokesperson Emily Latimer said.

The legislation would prohibit the U.S. government from using American taxpayer dollars to provide funding, weapons, training, and intelligence support to groups like the Levant Front, Fursan al Ha and other allies of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, al-Qaeda and ISIS, or to countries who are providing direct or indirect support to those same groups. The legislation was cosponsored by Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT-AL), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-48), and Thomas Massie (R-KY-04), and supported by the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and the U.S. Peace Council.

Alfred Marder, President of the U.S. Peace Council said, The U.S. Peace Council is honored to endorse and support the Stop Arming Terrorists Bill as a major contribution to peace. This legislation will serve to galvanize the anti-war movement and the opposition to regime change policies that characterize our present foreign policy.

The US defense secretary said 10 December 2016 that the US was sending an additional 200 troops to Syria. Ash Carter said the military personnel will be used to help drive Islamic State militants out of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the terrorist group. Carter said the 200 troops will include special forces trainers, advisers and explosive ordnance disposal teams. These uniquely skilled operators will join the 300 U.S. special operations forces already in Syria, to continue organizing, training, equipping, and otherwise enabling capable, motivated, local forces to take the fight to ISIL,'' Carter said.

On 19 January 2017 Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii stirred up the US foreign policy establishment by going on a private fact-finding mission to Syria. Gabbard had been a vocal critic of outgoing President Barack Obamas policy of demanding the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad and blaming his government for the bloody war with Islamist rebels

Donald Trump's unscripted remarks in March 2018 about pulling out of Syria very soon, were at odds with his own policy. For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president increasingly told them privately he wanted out. By January 2018,, Trumps aides thought they had persuaded him that the US needed to maitain an open-ended presence in Syria. The Islamic State group had yet to be entirely defeated, and the emerging power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump approved a major speech in January 2018 in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.

But by mid-February 2018, Trump was telling his top aides that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria. State Department and Pentagon officials had been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure. But the White House this week put a hold on $200 million for stabilization projects in Syria. The money was to have disburse by the State Department for infrastructure projects like power, water and roads. This had been announced by Tillerson at an aid conference in February 2018 in Kuwait.

The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed, the White House said in a statement 04 April 2017. The pronouncements from the White House come a day after President Donald Trump publicly repeated his desire to bring home the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria, even as top military officials signaled the mission there was not near completion.

The US is setting up two "bases" in Syrias northern Manbij region, currently occupied by YPG/PKK terrorists, Anadolu Agency learned on 03 April 2018. These locations are not "bases" in the sense of Fort Hood, but rather are small fortified strongpoints. The US was extending an observation post in Dadat village, northern Manbij, in order to build a base, according to information Anadolu Agency says it has received from local sources in Manbij. Construction materials and heavy equipment had already been transported to the southeast of the village. The base was located eight kilometres (4.9 miles) from Sajur River, which forms the frontline between Jarablus and Manbij.

The other base was being built four km (2.4 mi) from the frontline, south of Dadat. US-backed groups are staying in a farm named "Nuaymiyah" and are engaged in constructing and planning of the base. When completed, this will be the closest US base to the Euphrates Shield forces, which liberated parts of northern Syria during an operation led by Turkey from August 2016 to March 2017.

Background

In May 2015, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, characterized the U.S.-led train-and-equip mission in Syria as very complex and not easy. He emphasized its importance, however, as one component of a much broader approach. Up to 1,000 U.S. military personnel had been authorized to support the program in FY 2015, and DoD reported that several coalition nations will play a critical role. These partners have offered training sites, logistical support for trainers and recruits, and personnel to assist U.S. forces with training under CJIATF. Additionally, these partners may provide weapons systems that the United States does not maintain in its stocks, transportation resources, life support for both trainees and U.S. personnel, and some forms of financial support for the trainees.

During May 2015, U.S. officials met with Syrian opposition and civil society leaders in Turkey. According to DoD, these meetings provided an opportunity to further discuss the U.S. train-and-equip program, improve coordination with Syrian civilian actors who have a role in the fight against ISIL, and discuss the current situation on the ground in Syria.

A small team of American ground troops would deploy to northern Syria to help assist opposition groups in the fight against Islamic State militants. The White House said 30 October 2015 the president had authorized fewer than 50 US special operations forces to coordinate Syrian local fighter movements with the US-led coalition efforts. The deployment marked the first US ground forces sent to Syria for more than a raid or a specific mission. The US troops in deployed to Syria will provide some training, some advice and some assistance to those fighting IS-extremists, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

The entry of US special operations forces into northern Syria to energize the fight against the Islamic State came as intelligence officials saw the terror group as the most vulnerable it has been in some time. IS had been accustomed to acting as an aggressor, but US intelligence officials said its momentum has largely been blunted in Syria, where Kurdish forces are drawing closer to its de facto capital of Raqqa. It has suffered significant casualties, lost key leaders and can no longer rely on sweeping victories to boost moral.

The Obama administration is "pausing" and "evolving" a $500 million Pentagon-led program to train and equip Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants. The operation will shift away from vetting moderate Syrian rebels and training them in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. "We are going to pause that for now," Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth told reporters 09 October 2015 on a White House conference call, "but there may be an opportunity in the future where the situation on the ground is more fruitful."

United States officials said 28 October 2015 there was "no intention to pursue long-term, large-scale ground combat operations" like in Afghanistan or Iraq, in its stepped-up offensive against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. Defense Secretary Ash Carter 27 October said the change in strategy would include more airstrikes and possible ground assaults. The next day White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz backed up Carter's statement, making clear the United States "retain[s] the ability to conduct limited operations [in Syria] with partners as opportunities allow.

Operation Noble Lance in Syria was authorized in mid-September 2016, initially including about 300 American special forces. The Pentagon says it had allocated 40 special operations forces combatants to participate in the Turkish incursion. The joint effort labeled Operation Noble Lance was the first time the two forces have fought side by side on Syrian soil since the start of the conflict.

Five or six US special forces troops had to withdraw from the town of al-Rai on Syrias border with Turkey, after allies from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had driven them out, calling them infidels and crusaders. Aa group of rebels purporting to be representatives of Ahrar al-Sharqiya, a militia operating in the area, circulated a video statement, saying that US support of Kurds, who are also fighting Islamic State, was behind their protest. "We and other FSA groups fighting in and around Aleppo say that we remain a free army, and refuse to fight on the side of Americans, who support the terrorist Kurdish PKK. We are halting all military activities until US troops leave the region." The US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the "rhetoric" used by the rebels was not appropriate and acknowledged that the opposition is not a monolith, but still praised the overall success of Turkeys operation inside northern Syria. We knew all along that the Turkish forces would be teaming up with some opposition forces, and in this they have been successful. So, lets keep in mind the greater goal, which was to choke off that stretch of border so that [ISIS] cant use it, he said during a press briefing in Washington.

Progress against ISIL forces in Syria also was evident along the Mara line in the north, as NATO ally Turkey and coalition forces continued advise-and-assist missions with local forces. "Since the start of Operation Noble Lance, these partnered forces have liberated 254 square kilometers of ground, to include the people in 37 villages in that area," Air Force Col. John L. Dorrian, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said 23 September 2016.

The coalition remains focused on putting pressure on ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, Dorrian said. It continues to attack ISIL leadership and has struck the terrorists' ability to make money from illicit sales of petroleum products, he added. "All these operations are intended to disrupt and dismantle the enemy's ability to function as a coherent organization or respond to coalition and partner operations," he said 03 November 2016. ISIL does not have the ability to move large troop formations or convoys in and out of the Syrian city of Raqqa. The coalition has conducted strikes on ISIL supply and infiltration routes to limit freedom of movement in and out of Raqqa, Dorrian said. In Syria, Operation Noble Lance, with Turkish and partnered forces, has liberated about 50 villages to further isolate areas in northern Syria around Raqqa, the colonel said. That operation and previous missions have created a buffer along Syria's northern border, he said, reducing the access to infiltration routes to and from Europe. Dorrian explained the buffer limits ISIL's ability to resupply, bring in fighters and equipment and to conduct operations in Europe. Raqqa is not fully isolated and encircled, Dorrian said, "but that's what's coming in the near future."

By late 2018 The US had about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab groups known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The partnership with the SDF outraged NATO ally Turkey, which viewed the US-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of an armed group fighting inside Turkey. The Trump administration will withdraw all of the approximately 2,000 American troops in Syria, according to a US official 19 December 2018, as the White House declared victory in its mission to defeat Daesh terrorists there. "Our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back and they're coming back now," Trump said in a video.

At the time, administration officials predicted the withdrawal would take about 30 days. The decision came after a phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Everything that has followed is implementing the agreement that was made in that call," the official said. Planning for the pullout has begun and troops will begin leaving as soon as possible, said the official, who was not authorised to publicly discuss military planning and spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump said American forces no longer were needed in a country torn apart by long-running civil war.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that "victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign". She added "We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign .... The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists' territory, funding, support and many means of infiltrating our borders."

US officials had said in recent weeks that pockets of Daesh terrorists remain. US policy has been that American forces would stay in place until the extremists were eradicated. In addition, Pentagon and other officials have said that US troops were countering Iran-backed militants in Syria, which was an expansion of the US mission. Trump said on Twitter: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."

The US announcement came days after Erdogan announced that Turkish forces would launch a new cross-border operation against the YPG to the east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria. Erdogan said his country may launch the new military operation at any moment, adding that Trump has given a positive response to Turkey's plans in a phone call between the two leaders. A complete, rapid withdrawal, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term US military presence in Syria, which US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior US officials had advocated to help ensure ISIL cannot re-emerge. Reports of an abrupt withdrawal drew quick criticism from Congress Senator Marco Rubio who said a full and rapid removal of troops would be a "grave error with broader implications" beyond the fight against Daesh. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also parcelled out a caution in response, saying withdrawing US troops from Syria would "be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia."

Trump had previously lambasted his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq that preceded an unraveling of the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of ISISs advance into the country in 2014.

William Wechsler, a Middle East expert at the Atlantic Council, a global affairs think tank in Washington, said that besides Iran, the Syrian regime and their allies, the U.S. decision was also a major win for Turkey and its influence in the region. "The Syrian Kurds, who bore a disproportionate burden in the battle against the Islamic State, will feel abandoned and indeed betrayed by the U.S. This is therefore undeniably a big win for Turkey. It is likely not a coincidence that just yesterday the Trump administration announced it would reverse another policy and now sell the Patriot missile defense system to Turkey."

Trump overruled U.S. national security officials and surprised allies with his Dec. 19 announcement he was withdrawing the U.S. troops from Syria, where they have carried out air attacks on Islamic State and Syrian positions and advised Kurdish fighters. Trump's action, meeting a long-time pledge of his to get U.S. troops out of Syria, drew widespread protests, including from Republican lawmakers and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Defense Secretary James Mattis, perhaps the most respected foreign policy official in the administration, announced on 20 December 2018 that he will leave by the end of February. He told Trump in a letter that he was departing because "you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours."

Brett McGurk, the top US envoy in ISIL fight, quits over Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria. McGurk submitted his resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 21 December 2018, a day after Mattis said he was leaving his post. McGurk said at a State Department briefing on December 11 that "it would be reckless if we were just to say, 'Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now.' I think anyone who's looked at a conflict like this would agree with that."

McGurk was appointed to the post by former President Barack Obama in 2015 and retained by Trump. McGurk worked as a lawyer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion and joined Bush's National Security Council staff, where, during 2007 and 2008, he was the lead US negotiator on security agreements with Iraq.

Donald Trump's move to withdraw US troops from Syria prompted speculation on whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blackmailed his US counterpart into the decision, according to Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander. In an interview with CNN on 25 December 2018, Clark specifically singled out the lack of "any strategic rationale for the decision", which he said prods people to ask why the move was made. "People around the world are asking this and some of our friends and our allies in the Middle East are asking, did Erdogan blackmail the president? Was there a payoff or something? Why would a guy make a decision like this? Because all the recommendations were against it," Clark pointed out.

He claimed that Trump' decision may also raise questions over Washington's foreign policy. "What does this say about the foreign policy of the United States? That we're not reliable? That we make strategic decisions based on no strategic logic? What kind of person is driving the helm? That's the issue," Clark noted.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said 06 January 2019 there is no timetable for a US withdrawal, but that the process would not be abrupt. His comments were the first public confirmation that the administration had backed off an initial indication that it would pull out the troops within 30 days. Bolton said President Donald Trump "wants the ISIS caliphate destroyed," referring to Islamic State, which once claimed Raqqa in northern Syria as the capital of its religious territory in Syria and Iraq.

Bolton said protection for the Kurdish fighters who have helped battle Islamic State militants was one of the necessary conditions for a U.S. withdrawal of its 2,000 troops in Syria. "We don't think the Turks ought to undertake military action that's not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum so they don't endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president's requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered," Bolton told reporters 06 January 2019. Bolton said the US withdrawal from Syria would be carried out in a manner that "makes sure the defence of Israel and other friends in the region is absolutely assured".

US forces in Syria have a plan in place for their much talked about withdrawal, but it will likely not see all of them leave the fight against the Islamic State terror group anytime soon. The 2,000 US troops in Syria as part of the fight against the Islamic State terror group have "an approved framework for the withdrawal," Pentagon spokesman, Commander Sean Robertson, said 07 January 2019, adding commanders are "now engaged in executing that withdrawal.... That framework is conditions-based and will not subject troop withdrawal to an arbitrary timeline." About 200 US peacekeepers will remain in Syria after the military withdraws from the country, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for [a] period of time," Sanders said on 21 February 2019 as quoted by CBS News. Earlier, the White House said President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed in a phone conversation a possible creation of a safe zone in northern Syria. Senator Lindsey Graham said in a press release that Trumps plan to leave a small contingent of forces in Syria will ensure that Daesh* will not return. "I applaud President Trumps decision to leave a small contingent of American forces in Syria as part of an international stabilizing force," Graham said. "This will ensure ISIS [Daesh] does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew." Graham told defence officials that leaving zero troops in Syria would be the "dumbest" idea he ever heard.

Trump said 22 February 2019 that his decision to leave a small number of U.S. troops in Syria did not constitute a reversal of his plan to withdraw all troops from the country. "I am not reversing course," Trump told reporters at the White House. "It's a very small, tiny fraction of the people we have," he said, referring to the more than 2,000 American troops in Syria who are supporting Kurdish forces fighting the last of the Islamic State group.

Administration officials said the United States would leave some four hundred troops in Syria while the rest would be withdrawn. about 200 U.S. troops would join what is expected to be a total commitment of about 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies to set up and observe a safe zone being negotiated for northeastern Syria. About 200 other U.S. troops will remain at the U.S. military outpost of Tanf, near the border with Iraq and Jordan.




NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list