Speaking from Hannover, Germany, President Obama announced on Monday that another 250 U.S. special forces troops would be sent into Syria, joining roughly 50 special operators already deployed there.
As reported by CNN, President Obama said:
Just as I approved additional support for Iraqi forces against ISIL, I’ve decided to increase U.S. support for local forces fighting ISIL in Syria, a small number of special operations forces are already on the ground in Syria and their expertise has been critical as local forces have driven ISIL out of key areas.
“So given their success I’ve approved the deployment of up to 250 additional U.S. personnel in Syria including special forces to keep up this momentum.”
The President “stressed that U.S. troops will not be leading the fight on the ground but they will be essential in training and assisting local forces,” according to CNN.
A U.S. official elaborated that the new Special Forces troops would be working to recruit more Syrian Arab fighters into battle against the Islamic State, which has primarily been opposed by the Kurds in northern Syria until now. Apparently, the hope is that these new forces will bolster Kurdish military strength enough to begin moving against the ISIS capital of Raqqa.
Unfortunately, a similar strategy in Iraq does not seem to be going very well, as the drive to eject ISIS from its Iraqi capital of Mosul has stalled out, with reports of Kurdish troops and Shiite militias fighting each other. At least 22 casualties have been reported in these clashes between what CNN describes as the “uneasy allies in the fight against ISIS.”
While the administration is framing the increased special forces deployment to Syria as a positive step, inspired by the success of the special operators already at work there, Fox News notes that during his visit to Saudi Arabia last week, President Obama admitted he was concerned that the cease-fire agreement between the Syrian government and opposition groups might break down.
Another factor in Obama’s decision might be the highly successful deployment of Russian special forces in Syria. Moscow claimed its elite Spetsnaz troops played a key role in the Syrian government’s recapture of the historic city of Palmyra from ISIS.
The headline-grabbing U.S. Special Forces triumph in Syria was not about coordinating friendly Syrian forces to claw back territory from ISIS; it was a raid that killed the Islamic State’s oil man, Abu Sayyaf, and captured a priceless trove of documents. U.S. officials have described this raid as one of the most successful Special Forces operations in history.
Dramatically increasing the number of American special operators in Syria, ostensibly for “advise and assist” missions, will make it possible to conduct similar raids on short notice.