ARLINGTON, Va., May 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Defense on Thursday rejected questions about whether American troops are fighting with local forces on the ground against the Islamic State militant group in Syria, despite newly published photos that suggest otherwise.
During a press briefing Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook responded to questions from reporters about the photos, which purportedly show U.S. special operations forces about 30 miles outside Raqqah and wearing emblems on their uniforms indicating they are part of the YPG, also known as the People's Protection Units -- which is a branch of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
"Is it appropriate for U.S. forces to be identified so closely with the YPG, given the nature of the operation in Raqqah, and the fact that it's an Arab town?" one reporter asked Cook, who replied sternly.
"You know our policy with regard to our special operations forces, that we're not going to talk very much about their activities, where they are and what they're doing for obvious reasons," the Defense spokesman said. "They're carrying out a mission. They are exposing themselves to significant risk, and I'm not going to do anything up here that in any ways gives anyone the ability to identify where our forces are operating and what they're up to at any moment in time. I hope you would understand that."
Cook didn't directly refute the authenticity of the photos when asked again whether it would be appropriate for American forces to wear such emblems.
"I'm not going to comment about specific photos. What I will say is that special operations forces, when they operate in certain areas, do what they can to, if you will -- blend in with the community to enhance their own protection, their own security," Cook said. "And special operations forces in the past have worked with partners, and in the past have conducted themselves in such a way that they -- that they might operate in an atmosphere in which they are supportive of that local force in their advise and assist role.
"And they might be, again, for visual purposes, might be blending in with the local community."
The news photos appear to show U.S. forces wearing the insignia of YPG -- and even the YPJ, the all-women's unit -- and fighting under the command of the SDF. The YPG has allegiances to the Federation of Northern Syria and the local Democratic Union Party.
Questions related to the photos continued during Thursday's Pentagon briefing, with Cook repeatedly telling reporters that he would not discuss the photos specifically or talk about where special forces troops are located.
Although he didn't refute the photos, Cook did say that no American ground troops in Syria are working on the front lines against militants there.
"They are not at the front line. They are, again, in an advisory role to those forces," he said. "And they're going to continue to do that."