Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters on an armoured personnel carrier wave as they drive to cross the border into Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, on Friday.

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters on an armoured personnel carrier wave as they drive to cross the border into Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, on Friday. Emrah Gurel/AP

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The Intelligence Fallout From Trump’s Withdrawal in Syria

The chaotic withdrawal from Syria will severely weaken U.S. efforts in the country—and could also be a boost for Russia and Iran.

This version of the forever war in Iraq and Syria was built around the work done by local U.S. allies. The fight against ISIS was America’s, but it was also being fought by Syrians, Kurds, and Iraqis—a U.S. strategy known as “by, with and through.” It meant that local troops carried out ground fighting in battles drawn up by American war planners. It meant that they received arms, training and logistical support from the U.S. military and were backed by U.S. air strikes. Crucially, it also meant that they were getting help from special operations forces, the U.S. military’s most elite units, who work in the shadows around the world to carry out difficult and sensitive missions.

Perhaps the best known unit is SEAL Team 6, which carried out the Osama bin Laden raid in 2011. But task forces made up of SEALs and other officially classified units such as the Delta Force have carried out the dangerous work of hunting terrorists and breaking up insurgent networks since America’s forever wars began. Often they work on their own, but sometimes, as in the war against ISIS, they work with local counterterrorism units specially trained for the task. In the “by, with and through” strategy, these special operations forces, along with the better-known U.S. Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, served as a force multiplier—a relatively small number of American boots on the ground who made the war effort by local forces far more deadly.