|Deir Ez Zor, home to Syria's oil industry, a year ago [Image Source]|
Though President Barack Obama "has vowed not to deploy combat forces on the ground to help defeat the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria" [source: Long War Journal], this is thought to have been the third such 'special ops' ground attack in the past seven years.
The first was October 26, 2008, when US special operations forces sought out and killed a senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Ghadiya, thought to have the head of al Qaeda Syrian network since 2005. That attack brought about the deaths of several of the leader's aides. Abu Ghadiya's mission included (according to Wikipedia) providing false passports, safe houses, weapons and money to so-called militants on Syria's side of the border with Iraq before they crossed into Iraq.
The second was during an unsuccessful effort in August 2014 to rescue an American freelance journalist, James Wright Foley, who had been kidnapped and was being held inside Syria by forces of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. Two Delta Force teams from the US Army, helped by air support, attacked the target site but found he was not there. Foley was beheaded later the same month by the ISIS savages who produced and disseminated a video graphically capturing the butchering of their unarmed and bound prisoner. Both of the news agencies for whom Foley had been freelancing when he was seized by the Islamists - the GlobalPost from Boston, and Agence France-Presse - published statements after his murder claiming they would "no longer accept work from freelance journalists" who travel to what we would call terror-infested territories, meaning places like Syria. Whether that policy is justified or was ever put into actual effect, it's a reminder of how news reporting from such places is inevitably manipulated and unreliable. Fear and intimidation are under-appreciated factors in evaluating how good a job the mainstream news media do in these terrorism-afflicted times.
The third ground assault on Syria took place either Friday night or earlier today (Saturday) according to Aljazeera. It took place at an oil field east of Deir Ez Zor, a city of some 210,000 people, based on population figures that were relevant when Syria functioned as a state, which it has long ceased to do. It's the largest city in eastern Syria and 450 km northeast of Damascus.
The raid resulted in the deaths of "at least six people from ISIL... at least two of Arab nationalities; a Saudi and an Iraqi" according to Aljazeera, plus a leading figure in ISIS named Abu Sayyaf in the US Defense Department's official press release, issued a few hours ago:
Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIL's military operations and also helped direct the terrorist organization's illicit oil, gas and financial operations, the defense secretary said. “Abu Sayyaf was killed during the course of the operation when he engaged U.S. forces,” he said. “U.S. forces captured Umm Sayyaf, who we suspect is a member of ISIL, played an important role in ISIL's terrorist activities, and may have been complicit in what appears to have been the enslavement of a young Yezidi woman rescued last night,” Carter said. No U.S. forces were killed or injured during the operation, which represented “another significant blow to ISIL,” the defense secretary said. “And it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens, and those of our friends and allies,” he continued.In September 2014, the US President, speaking at U.S. Central Command in Florida, said ["Obama, Kerry: No U.S. troops will be sent into combat against ISIS in Iraq, Syria" | CNN, September 17, 2014]
that U.S. troops "do not and will not have a combat mission" in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria... "After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries' futures," he said. "And that's the only solution that will succeed over the long term." [CNN]Plainly, in the war against the terrorists means, you need to keep some flexibility up your sleeve.
UPDATE Sunday night, 9:00 pm: AFP, quoting Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. says no fewer than 32 ISIS "members" were killed in the US ground attack. Abdel Rahman claimed earlier this month that US-led forces had mounted an especially lethal attack (he termed it a "strike", presumably meaning attacks by aircraft) on the village of Birmahle in Syria's Aleppo province, killing 52 civilians, including "seven children" at least. "Not a single ISIS fighter" was killed in the strikes on Birmahle, Abdel Rahman is quoted saying, and the village was inhabited by civilians only, with no ISIS positions.