ZUMAR, Iraq — The role of American Special Operations Forces in Iraq has remained hidden even while the U.S. air war expands. As momentum against ISIS picks up, they may be emerging from the shadows. In a pitched battle on Monday, Kurdish Peshmerga, backed by American airpower and what appeared to be U.S. troops, struck at ISIS positions in the strategic crossroads of Zumar.
Scenes from Monday’s battle provide a tentative but valuable glimpse into the evolving role of special operations troops and how that might be playing out on the ground in Iraq.
Kurdish forces had once held Zumar but lost control of the town in early August in the same ISIS offensive that drove tens of thousands of Yazidis into the mountains, fleeing massacres at the hands of the Islamist militants. As ISIS advanced, besieging religious minorities and driving the Kurds into retreat, President Obama expand the military mission in the country and authorized airstrikes against the group. The effect of U.S. airpower has been clear, pushing ISIS back and allowing Kurdish and Iraqi security forces to regain territory. The airstrikes have had another important consequence: providing a psychological boon to the anti-ISIS forces in Iraq that’s allowed them to regain some of the initiative in battle.