U.S. military officials on Saturday denied reports that Syrian jihadists expelled American and Turkish troops from a border town about 30 miles west of the Euphrates River.
A videoposted on social media appears to show rifle-toting militants shouting "Death to America" as a team of U.S. special operations troops driving a convoy of pick-up trucks laden with crew-serve weapons leaves the town of Al Ra’i.
U.S. military officials say those troops were leaving the town after a routine meeting.
"There is absolutely no truth to coalition forces being forced out of Ar Rai. These forces conducted a routine planned movement, which followed a meeting with partnered forces in the area," officials told Military Times in a statement.
"We are working closely with a number of vetted Syrian opposition forces which share a common goal, the lasting defeat of Da'esh. With the numerous successes coalition partnered forces have had in northern Syria, much of the population welcome the partnerships which have been established," according to the written statement from the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, which oversees U.S.-led operations against the Islamic State group on Syria and Iraq.
Da'esh is another name for ISIS.
The video shows U.S. commandos riding in a convoy with Turkish tanks. It circulated on social media Friday as U.S. officials disclosed that small teams of U.S. special operations troops are now operating with Turkish troops in Syria.
Though exposed and thinly shielded, the heavily armed Americans appear calm, focused and unintimidated as they scan their surroundings. The crowd of armed men observing them becomes much louder after the U.S and Turkish troops pass, shouting and chanting and raising their weapons into the air. Captions added to the images say "dogs," "pigs" and "we will fight against America."
The video was shared with Military Times via Twitter by an unidentified user operating an account purporting to be associated with the Kurdish Pershmerga, a key American ally in the fight against ISIS in northern Iraq. U.S. commandos also are partnered with Kurdish ground units in Syria, a force known as the YPG.
This relationship is complicated, however, because Turkey considers the YPG to be outlaws who are closely affiliated with terrorists responsible for deadly attacks within Turkey's borders. Earlier this year, photos emerged of American troops in Syria wearing uniform patches associated with the YPG, a practice the Pentagon downplayed before outrage among Turkey's leaders forced the U.S. to ban personnel from wearing the insignia.
The Peshmerga Twitter account, @KURDISTAN_ARMY, has more than 20,000 followers and routinely shares battlefield updates about the conflict in Iraq and Syria. It says it supports "all Kurdish forces in our fight against terrorism" and has criticized the U.S. for backing Turkey.
Upon distributing its new video, the group claimed American troops were "expelled" from Al R'ai by Syrian opposition forces who've been trained by the U.S. military. In separate tweets, it chastised the U.S. government for allegedly attempting to "hide" the video and for supporting questionable characters in what's become a multisided and highly complex conflict inside of Syria.
As the video ends, a message reads "These terrorist groups supported by the Turkey and U.S. to fight against the Kurds, under the pretext of fighting ISIS in Syria."
US supported al-Qaida in Afghanistan against Russia and today repeated the same mistake as arming jihadists in Syria https://t.co/w6wc8tDCgb
— Peshmerga (@KURDISTAN_ARMY) September 17, 2016
The video emerged as U.S. and Turkish troops, for the first time, mounted ground-level joint operations in Syria. It's part of expanding American-Turkish cooperation there, an effort that started in August with U.S. warplanes providing close-air support for Turkish ground troops in the battle for the Syrian border town of Jarablus.
"U.S. special operations forces have been approved to accompany Turkish and vetted Syrian opposition forces as they continue to clear territory from ISIL," Marine Corps Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday using another acronym for ISIS.
"U.S. personnel operating with Turkish forces and Syrian opposition forces will provide the same train, advise and assist support they have been providing to local partners in Syria fighting ISIL," the Pentagon spokesman said.
The new mission will not require a change in the current U.S. force level in Syria, which is capped at 300 troops, a defense official said. It was first reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal, which said about 40 special operations troops will be working with the Turkish forces.
Tilghman is Military Times' Pentagon bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewtilghman. Military Times' senior editor Andrew deGrandpre contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter: @adegrandpre.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.