Though not announced publicly, new deployments of Delta Force and Navy SEALs operators to Iraq, Syria, and the Horn of Africa are underway, US defense officials told ABC News on Friday. Some sources in the military said the troops welcome the Trump administration’s tough stance on combating terrorism.
“We don’t know for sure what will happen, but the boys really think we’re going to see a lot of action on this deployment – because of the new administration,” said one unnamed member of a Special Forces unit that recently deployed overseas.
Another source, also unnamed but described as a veteran with 20 years of experience in covert operations, told ABC the authority to expand counter-terrorism operations overseas had occurred over the past months. “Authorities have changed in special operations’ favor with the new administration. We’re doing work on the bad guys,” he said.
The report comes shortly after a remarkable statement by General Joseph Votel, former head of the US Special Operations Command, who said in late February that new deployments to war-torn Iraq and Syria are a possibility.
He said local forces trained and backed by the US “don’t have as good mobility, they don’t have as much firepower, so we have to be prepared to fill in some of those gaps for them,” noting that possible American deployments may involve providing additional fire support capability and “a variety of other things” to help “offset some of the gaps.”
“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” Votel said. “That’s an option.” He added, however, that it’s very unlikely that US troops would be directly engaged in hostilities, stressing that the military strategy of guiding and coordinating local forces from behind – developed during the Obama administration – remains unchanged.
According to some reports, US Special Forces teams are present in both Syria and Iraq, with the declared goal of achieving the military defeat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other Islamist groups. Around 500 commandos operate in Syria, up from just 50 in 2015, the Washington Post reported last October.
It has also been widely reported that US Special Forces are taking part in the Iraqi Army’s ongoing offensive to recapture western Mosul.
In other parts of the Middle East, the elite US troops have suffered casualties recently, as the first known counter-terrorism operation under the Trump administration resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Team Six member Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens in late January, during an operation against Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Three other US personnel were wounded in action, and an aircraft was destroyed after it made hard landing while trying to bring in reinforcements. The SEAL team had engaged in a firefight with Al-Qaeda militants and local militia, which lasted for about an hour.