If there’s one thing that piques the interest of self-styled open source intelligence analysts, military kit enthusiasts and those serving, it’s non-western special operations forces.
The shift to an almost-standardized kit in countries that have less-than-impressive funding (or in the case that inspired this piece: minimal funding) has been a relatively new phenomenon. The world’s specialized units have rushed to share an appearance with what is commonly considered the industry standard: the United States’ robust cadre of SOF operators.
One of the units that has enthusiasts and professionals scratching their head lately is the Syrian Defense Force’s Yekîneyên Antî Teror, or “YAT.”
It is a unit that is still shrouded in considerable secrecy due to the nature of its origins, comprised mostly of senior YPG and YPJ fighters who fight for a free Rojava (Syrian Kurdish state) — very different from the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters most are familiar with.
Besides the differences in political, societal, and economic principles that define the two groups of Kurds, the YAT is different because it is possibly trained and equipped by US intelligence community personnel, in addition to American SOF trainers.
Prior to 2019, the YAT was trained and equipped by United States Army Special Forces, commonly referred to as Green Berets. The world's foremost experts in guerrilla and unconventional warfare, these teams linked up with Kurdish forces in Northern Syria in early 2016.
The equipment pictured is unique, especially when compared to the roughly three dozen other SDF elements equipped by SF teams. Instead of the budget body armor and off-the-shelf uniforms fielded for traditional SDF units, YAT members could be seen wearing a derivative of the Eagle Industries kit, SOCOM’s standard during the early years of the Global War on Terror.
Like many US SOF-led partner forces, YAT members were armed with Kalashnikov rifles and various Soviet-era sidearms.
However, a recent photo has emerged of a newly outfitted YAT — one that paints a clearer picture of their specialized role in their fight against ISIS and Turkey, and hints at their possible connection to the IC.
The military operates under Title 10 authorities which are far more transparent and accounted for than the Title 50 authorities that the intelligence community operates under. Title 10 train-and-equip programs typically utilize gear and kit that provide a semblance of deniability, but recent open source information shows modernized, western-influenced kit and gear.
The above pictured kit appears to be a US-made Crye precision Jumpable Plate Carrier with High Speed Gear's suite of pouches. The addition of any helmets is unusual, as partner forces aren't typically issued any.
However, the YAT operative runs a “commando cut”, usually reserved for special operations units that operate a communications package with headset.
He carries a Mk 17 produced by Sword International, a high-end manufacturer of precision rifles modeled after the AR-10 chambered in 7.62x51 mm or 6.5 Creedmoor. Atop it sits a Steiner T5Xi 3-15x50 scope, a favorite of European SOF units for medium range shooting.
Even the magazines are commercial made — another commonality with American SOF favoring commercially available magazines over the STANAG magazines that are found throughout the United States military.
Even more shocking is another recently released photograph of a YAT fighter who has a night optic device mount latched onto her helmet’s shroud. The addition of night vision capabilities is a testament to the fact that the YAT is a more autonomous special operations unit than just a mere well-equipped partner force.
The YAT operative in this picture also wears western gear and carries what appears to be a modernized US-supplied M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. While a few legacy models lurk in the region's black markets, they don't tend to have integrated Picatinny rails on the handguard.
While it's fun to comb the feeds of open source intelligence journeymen to see the latest and greatest tech and kit being fielded in combat zones, it's important to realize that there's often a “why” attached to it all.
So, while the milsim fans and Airsoft players will gain some inspiration, there’s a myriad of questions attached to something as innocuous as an Instagram cool-guy pic.
Nicholas Guy is a United States Special Forces soldier with 19th Special Forces Group and a financial intelligence analyst with a large bank. Previously, he was with 5th Special Forces Group.