The Obama administration is sending "fewer than 50" U.S. special-operations forces to Syria to “advise and assist” Syrian rebels already fighting the Islamic State. It will mark the first time the U.S., which has relied on air strikes to fight ISIS, has devoted an on-the-ground troop presence during the Syrian conflict.
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Forced Committee that "direct action on the ground" was a possibility in Syria — and Iraq, where there are currently no reported plans to increase the number of troops on the ground beyond 3,300.
The White House also reportedly plans on shipping fighter jets to the NATO base in Turkey. The Guardian calls these changes — which are supposed to be announced on Friday afternoon — "a major escalation of US forces in the region." The New York Times added, "It is actually a huge shift for a president who has said repeatedly that he will not put American combat boots on the ground in Syria." Joshua Keating at Slate notes, "It often seems like Obama ends up doing what his most hawkish critics are urging him to do, just years later when it’s likely to be far less effective." Back in 2013, the president said, "I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria."
The special forces will reportedly be sent to Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria.
However, the White House has stressed repeatedly in the past few weeks that it doesn’t "have any intention to pursue long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those we’ve seen in the past in Iraq and Afghanistan,” as an official told The Wall Street Journal.
The Obama administration has suffered more than a few setbacks in Syria policy in the past few weeks — a training program for Syrian rebels was scrapped after only "four or five" soldiers were trained and Russia complicated everything by starting to fight against the rebels in an effort to help President Bashar al-Assad.
An administration official told NBC News that the special-forces plan proved they were "focused on intensifying elements of our strategy that have been working, while also moving away from elements of our approach that have proven less effective."
Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in Vienna with many other leading diplomats trying to figure out if there is a peaceful way to resolve the civil war in Syria. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif is also attending the talks; according to Iranian television news, he said the assembled countries “have reached the conclusion that without Iran it isn’t possible to reach a reasonable and logical solution.”
Kerry called the talks the best way to “chart a course out of hell.” He added, days before the U.S. announced it was planning on getting more involved in the conflict than ever, that he was “optimistic.”
“There’s a lot of work to do but I am hopeful,” he added.