In an effort to drive ISIS forces out of Syria, the U.S. has announced its decision to send Special Operations forces to Kurdish-controlled territory in the northern regions of the country. The troops will first be sent to this area to help the local forces coordinate efforts to fight ISIS.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said that less than 50 troops will be deployed. Some have criticized this decision as being an insufficient amount of force to actually make an impact. Earnest dismissed this criticism and noted that the Special Operations are an “important force multiplier anywhere around the world they are deployed.” The President authorized the cap of 50 troops, but more could be sent if needed. A few dozen troops will be sent first, and they could be on the ground in just a few weeks.
The White House has been careful to note that the forces are not being deployed for a combat mission. They will mostly be stationed at a facility acting as a provisional headquarters for Syrian Arabs, Kurds and other groups tasked with driving ISIS out of the country. According to their current mission, the troops are not authorized to go into combat or on raids. More Special Operations troops will be made available for authorized raids if high-ranking ISIS targets are located.
The enhanced U.S. military involvement comes amid intensifying Russian activity in the area. Russian troops were deployed to Syria to launch an airstrike and artillery campaign that was allegedly meant to target ISIS groups. However, the location of these bombings have caused U.S. military officials to believe Russia is attempting to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against U.S.-backed rebel groups, known collectively as the Free Syrian Army. The U.S. and Russia are actively holding de-escalation talks in order to prevent accidents or misunderstanding between the two country’s respective military efforts.