US fighters pictured near Raqqa as Syrian rebels start anti-ISIS offensive (RT PHOTOS)
An RT Arabic crew has photographed American fighters near the Syrian city of Raqqa, which is currently held by Islamic State terrorists. On Sunday, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the start of the operation to liberate the city.
READ MORE: US-backed Syrian militia move to retake ISIS ‘capital’ Raqqa with American air cover
US fighters wearing helmets and bulletproof vests have been spotted by an RT Arabic crew near the Syrian city of Raqqa. The men were photographed standing near several vehicles. It is however not clear what exact units the fighters belonged to and whether they have been on any particular mission at that time.
“During my trip across northern Raqqa, to the south of the community of Ain Issa, I saw dozens of American soldiers,” RT Arabic correspondent Muhammad Hassan said.
“They have the latest weapons and vehicles, and they as well as soldiers from European countries are involved in the battles for the liberation of Raqqa together with Syrian Democratic Forces.”
Similar pictures of US fighters were also made by the Reuters news agency, who said that those photographed were American military servicemen. Some were pictured on the roof of a house, with at least one seen carrying an assault rifle.
In April, US President Barack Obama announced that Washington would deploy 250 more personnel to Syria in addition to some 50 special forces personnel already in the country. The units were officially targeted with providing training and assistance to the SDF forces in their fight against IS terrorists.
Following reports of some 150 US troopers arriving in a Kurdish-controlled town of Rumeilan, a representative of the Syrian Foreign Ministry called the move “a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty” and a “blatant act of aggression.”
On November 1, the SDF announced it had launched an offensive to recapture Raqqa from Islamic State.
"The general command of the Syria Democratic Forces announces the blessed start of its major military campaign to liberate the city of Raqqa," Jehan Sheikh Amad, an SDF spokeswoman, said during a press conference. The SDF is a militia alliance formed in 2015 to fight ISIS, with the YPG Kurdish force, one of Syria’s most powerful militias, as its backbone.
According to the plan, the Kurdish-led forces will "isolate and then topple the capital of international terrorism.” The SDF says a command center to coordinate with the US-led coalition has already been set up. Raqqa is the self-proclaimed capital of Islamic State, which was captured by the terrorists in 2013.
The assault on Raqqa has been expected for a long time, with the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announcing on October 25 it would “overlap” with the current advance against IS stronghold of Mosul in Iraq. US-led coalition forces are expected to give air cover to the Kurdish forces battling on the ground against Jihadists in Raqqa.
“It will automatically be local forces that will liberate Raqqa even if French forces, US forces, the coalition contribute with air strikes to dismantle Daesh [ISIS]," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio on Sunday.
Carter applauded the start of the Kurdish-led offensive to retake Raqqa on Sunday, saying that it “marks the next step in our coalition campaign plan.”
US is currently leading an international coalition, bombing IS jihadists and their hideouts in Syria, although without any official request or permission from the Syrian government.
US troops in Syria & Iraq assume ‘combat role’
The US boots on the ground in Syria clearly imply that there is a combat mission, former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told RT. He emphasized that the so-called US advisors are in fact combat troops which will be engaged in real fighting.
"Any time you have special forces involved, even in an advisory or training role, and all of a sudden they are on the frontline. There are no frontlines in this kind of asymmetric warfare and they are going to be facing combat and by definition according to the Pentagon that constitutes combat."
That "is absolutely contrary to what the Obama administration promised it would not happen," Maloof went on to say. “It’s delusional to think that the United States does not have a combat role right now in either Iraq or in Syria,” the ex-Pentagon official concluded.
According to Maloof, the US involvement in taking back Raqqa is also partially motivated by the political agenda. "The race against time is not only political because of the elections so that Obama can show that he is trying to accomplish something. But I think also it's a race to beat the Russians and the Syrian government out of trying to take back Raqqa so that United States can influence who is going to control Raqqa," Maloof said.
"The United States is playing a very dicey game right now in Raqqa, just as it is in Mosul," Maloof said.
The ex-Pentagon official stressed that "unlike Russia, the United States has not been invited" by the Syrian government to conduct any military action on its soil while the presence of American soldiers in Syria is a violation of international law.
"It is contrary to the international law. The United States with its special forces on the ground technically were not asked to come in by the government of Syria."
In an interview to RT, Saad al-Matlabi, a member of the Security Council for the Baghdad province, said that he is not surprised by any potential frontline appearance by the US forces, since they are closely cooperating with the Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria as well.
"It's not strange for me to see actual American fighters participating in actual fighting and actual support of the Iraqi Peshmerga, the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq and of course the Syrian Peshmerga within a plan to provide the Kurds with a better platform to present their case," Al-Matlabi said.
READ MORE: Raqqa now key to US strategy in Syria and the wider region
"I am sure that [the Americans] are trying to hide their participation by wearing the same uniforms that the Syrian Kurds are using," he said. The official also noted that as well as standard support, such as airstrikes, in "certain" cases the US advisors are exceeding their training mission and taking part in real combat.
"In the end they [US] have to do certain points where certain American boots must be on the ground which exceed slightly training and advising support, slightly into one or two steps within actual combat," Al-Matlabi said.