From Zumar in northern Iraq, the Daily Beast reports: At around 10 a.m. [yesterday], the Peshmerga halted our movement. Fearing that the situation was changing rapidly, we asked the Kurdish security element accompanying us what was happening. “We don’t know,” they said, “we just got information that you cannot move forward.” Repeated calls were met with the same firm statement that we could not move forward.
Stuck out in the open with no clear sense of what was occurring in the battle that required us to be stopped, we made contact with high-level Peshmerga ministries, both in Erbil and on the ground in Zumar. “Yes, we want to let you in, but we can’t,” said one high-level Kurdish government official. “We have visitors, you’ll see them,” he stated. As we tried to decipher his cryptic response our answer came: multiple armored Toyotas swept down the mountain, passing within feet of us. The Toyotas were packed with what appeared to be bearded Western Special Operations Forces. I watched the trucks pass and saw for myself the crews inside them. They didn’t wear any identifying insignia but they were visibly Western and appeared to match all the visual characteristics of American special operations soldiers.
Contacts in the Kurdish intelligence service and Peshmerga leadership confirmed what we saw. “Yes,” one commander replied to our questions. “German and American forces are on the ground here. “They are helping to support us in the attack.”
“There are no U.S. troops on the ground in or around Zumar.” The Pentagon told The Daily Beast on Monday night. Captain Rick Haupt, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which has control over military operations in the Middle East, denied that U.S. troops were involved in the fighting but confirmed U.S. aircraft “performed one strike destroying several vehicles in the vicinity of Zumar” on Monday.
Kurdish officials told The Daily Beast a different story. Ranking members of the Kurdish military and intelligence service said that one team of U.S. Special Operations was on the ground in Zumar along with several German counterparts, working in conjunction with Peshmerga units. According to the Kurdish sources, U.S. and German special operations teams had taken up positions in Zumar that allowed them to coordinate with U.S. aircraft.
If American troops were active in the fighting in Zumar, as they appeared to be on Monday, and as Kurdish officials stated, it would mark a significant break with U.S. official policy. [Continue reading…]