US to deploy special forces to Syria

2015-10-30 19:36
(Antonio Perez, AP)

(Antonio Perez, AP)

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Washington - US President Barack Obama plans to deploy dozens of special operations forces to northern Syria to advise opposition forces in their fight against the Islamic State, a major shift and a step he has long resisted to avoid getting dragged into another war in the Middle East.

The number of special operations troops in Syria would be fewer than 50, said a senior administration official. Another said the number was likely to be in the range of 20 to 30 but could not provide details.

The decision by Obama, deeply averse to committing troops to unpopular wars in the Middle East, would mark the first sustained US troop presence in Syria and raise the risk of American casualties, although US officials stressed the forces were not meant to engage in front-line combat.

Programme to train

The Obama administration is under pressure to ramp up America's effort against ISIS, particularly after the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to the Islamic State in May and the failure of a US military programme to train and arm thousands of Syrian rebels.

The planned deployment adds to an increasingly volatile and complex conflict in Syria, where Russia and Iran have increased up their military support for President Bashir al-Assad's fight against rebels in the four-and-a-half year civil war.

Russia said when it began air strikes last month that it would also target ISIS, but its planes have hit other rebel groups opposed to Assad, including groups backed by Washington.

Air strikes

The new US strategy to assist in the fight against ISIS in Syria will be accompanied by a new special operations force in Erbil in northern Iraq, "intensified" co-operation with Iraqis in retaking Ramadi and expanded security assistance to Jordan and Lebanon, a senior congressional source said.

The US special operations forces in Syria would be stationed in rebel-held territory, co-ordinate air drops to rebels and resupplying those forces as they move toward Raqqa, the declared capital of the Islamic State, said US officials.

They could also help co-ordinate air strikes from the ground, the officials said.

Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  syria conflict

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