Pentagon denies special forces fighting ISIS on front lines

Updated 5:18 PM EDT, Fri May 27, 2016
TOPSHOT - Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa on May 25, 2016. 
US-backed Syrian fighters and Iraqi forces pressed twin assaults against the Islamic State group, in two of the most important ground offensives yet against the jihadists. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), formed in October 2015, announced on May 24 its push for IS territory north of Raqa city, which is around 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of the Syrian-Turkish border and home to an estimated 300,000 people. The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) -- largely considered the most effective independent anti-IS force on the ground in Syria -- but it also includes Arab Muslim and Christian fighters.

 / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN        (Photo credit should read DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa on May 25, 2016. US-backed Syrian fighters and Iraqi forces pressed twin assaults against the Islamic State group, in two of the most important ground offensives yet against the jihadists. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), formed in October 2015, announced on May 24 its push for IS territory north of Raqa city, which is around 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of the Syrian-Turkish border and home to an estimated 300,000 people. The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) -- largely considered the most effective independent anti-IS force on the ground in Syria -- but it also includes Arab Muslim and Christian fighters. / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN (Photo credit should read DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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A man from Lancashire who encouraged Islamic extremists to wage jihad in the West, including targeting Prince George and injecting poison in to supermarket ice-cream, has been convicted today (31 May).
Husnain Rashid, 32, posted messages online glorifying successful terrorist atrocities committed by others while encouraging and inciting his readers to plan and commit attacks.
One of his posts included a photograph of Prince George, along with the address of his school, a black silhouette of a jihad fighter and the message ìeven the royal family will not be left aloneî.
His common theme was that attacks could be carried out by one individual acting alone. Rashid suggested perpetrators had the option of using poisons, vehicles, weapons, bombs, chemicals or knives. Rashid uploaded terrorist material to an online library he created with the goal of helping others plan an attack.
He also planned to travel to Turkey and Syria with the intention of fighting in Daesh-controlled territories. He contacted individuals he believed to be in Daesh territory, seeking advice on how to reach Syria and how to obtain the required authorisation necessary to join a fighting group.
Rashid provided one individual who had travelled to Syria and was known online as ìRepunzelî, with information about methods of shooting down aircraft and jamming missile systems.
All the offences relate to Rashidís activities online between October 2016 and his arrest in November 2017.
Rashidís trial started on 23 May at Woolwich Crown Court but he changed his plea to guilty on four counts on 31 May. He will be sentenced on 28 June.
Sue Hemming from the CPS said: ìHusnain Rashid is an extremist who not only sought to encourage others to commit attacks on targets in the West but was planning to travel aboard so he could fight himself.
ìHe tried to argue that he had not done anything illegal but with the overwhelming weight of evidence against him he changed his plea to guilty.
ìThe judge will now deci
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A man from Lancashire who encouraged Islamic extremists to wage jihad in the West, including targeting Prince George and injecting poison in to supermarket ice-cream, has been convicted today (31 May). Husnain Rashid, 32, posted messages online glorifying successful terrorist atrocities committed by others while encouraging and inciting his readers to plan and commit attacks. One of his posts included a photograph of Prince George, along with the address of his school, a black silhouette of a jihad fighter and the message ìeven the royal family will not be left aloneî. His common theme was that attacks could be carried out by one individual acting alone. Rashid suggested perpetrators had the option of using poisons, vehicles, weapons, bombs, chemicals or knives. Rashid uploaded terrorist material to an online library he created with the goal of helping others plan an attack. He also planned to travel to Turkey and Syria with the intention of fighting in Daesh-controlled territories. He contacted individuals he believed to be in Daesh territory, seeking advice on how to reach Syria and how to obtain the required authorisation necessary to join a fighting group. Rashid provided one individual who had travelled to Syria and was known online as ìRepunzelî, with information about methods of shooting down aircraft and jamming missile systems. All the offences relate to Rashidís activities online between October 2016 and his arrest in November 2017. Rashidís trial started on 23 May at Woolwich Crown Court but he changed his plea to guilty on four counts on 31 May. He will be sentenced on 28 June. Sue Hemming from the CPS said: ìHusnain Rashid is an extremist who not only sought to encourage others to commit attacks on targets in the West but was planning to travel aboard so he could fight himself. ìHe tried to argue that he had not done anything illegal but with the overwhelming weight of evidence against him he changed his plea to guilty. ìThe judge will now deci
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FILE - In this undated file photo released by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq, while riding in Raqqa, Syria. Simultaneous attacks on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa, the de facto IS capital across the border in eastern Syria, would make military sense: They would make it harder for the extremists to move reinforcements and deny them a safe haven. (Militant website via AP, File)
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FILE - In this undated file photo released by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq, while riding in Raqqa, Syria. Simultaneous attacks on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa, the de facto IS capital across the border in eastern Syria, would make military sense: They would make it harder for the extremists to move reinforcements and deny them a safe haven. (Militant website via AP, File)
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(FILES) This image grab taken from a propaganda video released on July 5, 2014 by al-Furqan Media allegedly shows the leader of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, adressing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul. 
The Russian army on June 16, 2017 said it hit Islamic State leaders in an airstrike in Syria last month and was seeking to verify whether IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed. In a statement, the army said Sukhoi warplanes carried out a 10-minute night-time strike on May 28 at a location near Raqa, where IS leaders had gathered to plan a pullout by militants from the group's stronghold.
 / AFP PHOTO / AL-FURQAN MEDIA / --/AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) This image grab taken from a propaganda video released on July 5, 2014 by al-Furqan Media allegedly shows the leader of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, adressing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The Russian army on June 16, 2017 said it hit Islamic State leaders in an airstrike in Syria last month and was seeking to verify whether IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed. In a statement, the army said Sukhoi warplanes carried out a 10-minute night-time strike on May 28 at a location near Raqa, where IS leaders had gathered to plan a pullout by militants from the group's stronghold. / AFP PHOTO / AL-FURQAN MEDIA / --/AFP/Getty Images
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NEW: Anti-ISIS coalition spokesman says it's "unauthorized and inappropriate" for U.S. forces to wear YPG patches

A news agency published photos it says are of U.S. special operations forces operating near the front lines north of Raqaa

(CNN) —  

The Pentagon has pushed back on assertions that U.S. special operations forces were fighting ISIS fighters on the front lines alongside the Syrian forces they are advising.

Agence France-Presse published photos Thursday that the news agency says are U.S. special operations forces operating near the front lines north of Raqaa, ISIS’s self-declared capital, as they conduct their advise-and-assist mission of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, that the United States is assisting in the battle to defeat ISIS.

“Our forces in Iraq and Syria, their instructions, their mission, is clear that they are not at that leading edge,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters Thursday. “They’re able to defend themselves, but they have to be in a position to be able to provide the kind of advice and assistance needed to help these forces, these local forces, succeed.”

Since the beginning of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, U.S. officials have maintained that U.S. forces on the ground are only there to advise and assist local forces in their fight against ISIS, and are prohibited under the rules of engagement to conduct offensive military operations against ISIS.

Despite the apparent closeness to kinetic action in the photos, Pentagon officials maintain that rule of engagement holds true in Syria, even though there is no fixed position inside Syria from where U.S. forces cannot move forward from.

Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic Forces as U.S. special operations forces ride in truck in Raqqa province.
DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic Forces as U.S. special operations forces ride in truck in Raqqa province.

“This is a fluid situation where the forward line of troops can be moving,” Cook said without ever explicitly confirming the authenticity of the photos or their location to preserve operational security for the U.S. forces. “And so they’re doing their best to adjust to the circumstances on the ground, carrying out their mission in an effective way as possible.”

U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria do reserve the right to use their weapons for their personal defense or greater force protection reasons.

Questions regarding the photos were also raised due to the fact that the U.S. special operations forces appear to be wearing the insignia of the YPG, the main Kurdish force inside Syria, the optics of which could present all sorts of difficulties in a multiethnic region riven with sectarian tensions.

While refusing to comment specifically on the photos themselves, Cook said in the past, U.S. forces in similar situations have taken various measures to draw attention away from their presence in hostile environments.

“Special operations forces, when they operate in certain areas, do what they can to, if you will, blend in with the community to enhance their own protection, their own security,” he said.

Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters Friday that it was “unauthorized and inappropriate” for U.S. forces to wear YPG patches.

“Corrective action has been taken,” Warren said. Asked about Turkey’s concerns about the incident, Warren said that the coalition has “communicated to our allies” that the action has been taken.