WASHINGTON, D.C. — America’s Arab allies have discussed deploying their own ground forces to Syria to combat the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), a senior U.S. State Department official told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We’ve had lots of discussions with our gulf allies and with Jordan about the possibility of introducing ground troops,” Anne Patterson, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Her comments are the latest sign that Russia’s military intervention has changed the dynamic of the nearly five-year-old Syrian civil war, notes the Washington Examiner.
“With the Islamic State gaining ground and Russian power now backing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, rebel groups backed by a U.S.-led coalition are being squeezed more tightly than ever, leaving Washington scrambling for ways to shore them up,” adds the article.
Patterson echoed a senior Department of Defense official who, while briefing reporters last Friday on condition of anonymity, indicated that some allies are interested in sending special operations forces into Syria.
“In terms of other country commitments for special operations forces, so, I think we are in close consultation with a number of our allies about this very issue,” said the official.
“A small number of allies are interested in additional special operations forces in both Iraq and Syria. I do not know whether they will make that decision and would leave them some space to make that decision,” he added. “But… there are some allies who have been interested and asking about doing more with special operations forces across the whole theater.”
The senior Defense official did not specify which allies are interested in deploying forces into Syria.
On Friday, the Obama administration, under pressure from lawmakers, announced that it will be putting up to 50 U.S. special operations troops in northern Syria to advise and assist rebel forces there.
“We are intensifying our campaign against ISIL, both through the airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and by working on the ground with partners in Iraq and Syria who have proven capable of reclaiming territory from ISIL,” Patterson said in written remarks prepared for the House panel hearing. “The United States and our coalition partners have conducted a total of over 7,700 airstrikes against ISIL targets, including 2,600 in Syria. Our coalition is over 65 partners and theirs is three.”
The American special operations forces are also expected to provide the United States with a better understanding of what the Syrian rebels’ capabilities are and whether they can be trained into an effective fighting force.
“President Obama still won’t bend on his refusal to take any military action against Assad, and has insisted that Russia’s intervention on his behalf will backfire, opening the door to a diplomatic solution that Secretary of State John Kerry has been seeking,” reports the Examiner.
“He’s not naive about this. This is what the whole Vienna [peace negotiations] process and followup process is about,” Patterson told the House panel, referring to Kerry.
Lawmakers from President Obama’s own party expressed skepticism during the House panel hearing on Wednesday.
“Given what’s happened on the ground that sounds like fantasy to me,” said Gerry Connolly (D-VA).
Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition have been irritated by the Obama administration’s refusal to confront Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s ally, since the beginning of the anti-ISIS airstrikes campaign that began last year.