WASHINGTON — Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional panel that he would consider having U.S. ground forces accompany Iraqi forces and moderate Syrian rebel groups.
“If the commander on the ground approaches either me or the secretary of defense and believes that the introduction of special operations forces to accompany Iraqis or the new Syrian forces, or JTACS, these skilled folks who can call in close-air support– if we believe that’s necessary to achieve our objectives, we will make that recommendation,” Gen. Dempsey told the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee.
A spokesman for Gen. Dempsey dismissed the chairman’s comment as “hypothetical.”
“It was a hypothetical and there is no consideration of sending U.S. troops into Syria beyond personnel recovery/combat rescue forces if necessary as the air campaign continues,” said Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There are an estimated 2,700 U.S. troops carrying out an advise-and-assist mission as they train the Iraqi troops to combat the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL).
A U.S.-led coalition has been launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, but it lacks a strong and reliable ground offensive.
There is an American-led program underway aimed at training moderate Syrian rebels. At least 1,200 moderates have been screened in Syria for training at facilities in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, according to the Pentagon.
In Syria, the U.S. opposes ISIS and the Bashar al-Assad regime. ISIS controls swaths of Syria and it fights Assad.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who testified alongside Gen. Dempsey, told lawmakers the “Syria piece, is a “much more difficult situation wherein we’re trying to create a third force that can both combat ISIL and set the conditions for the eventual removal of Bashar Assad.”