The Pentagon on Thursday said U.S. special operations forces in Syria are not taking a front-line role in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), despite recent photos that suggest otherwise.
"They are not on the forward line," said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook.
Cook acknowledged there was no "specific measurement" for what the "forward line" is.
"But I think, again, our forces in Iraq and Syria, their instructions, their mission is clear that they are not at that leading edge. They're able to defend themselves, but they have to be in a position to be able to provide the kind of advice and assistance needed to help these forces, these local forces succeed," he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Agence France-Presse distributed photos showing fully armed U.S. forces in Syria riding in the back of an armed truck known as a "technical."
Some were wearing the patch of the Syrian Kurdish YPG, calling into question exactly how close to the fight U.S. forces were getting as rebels move in toward Raqqa, ISIS's self-proclaimed capital.
A report accompanying the photos quoted a Syrian rebel commander named Baraa al-Ghanem as saying the U.S. forces were "present at all positions along the front. ... They are taking part on the ground and in the air".
Cook would not comment on the photos specifically but said the U.S. special operations troops may be wearing the patches for protection.
"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.
"Special operations forces in the past ... have conducted themselves in such a way that they might operate in an atmosphere in which they are supportive of that local force in their advise-and-assist role," he said.
Cook would not comment on where U.S. forces were operating but said Syrian rebels may have retaken three villages north of Raqqa.