Pentagon official: Syria deployment 'is a start'

Pentagon official: Syria deployment 'is a start'
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A senior defense official on Friday said the deployment of fewer than 50 U.S. special operations forces to Syria is only "a start" to doing more there against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  
 
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"This is a start," said the official, speaking to defense reporters during a background brief. "You shouldn't rule out anything. We'll adjust once we get a better sense of who's on the ground, their capability and what's actually needed." 
 
The White House on Friday announced the president's decision to send "several dozen" U.S. troops to Syria in a move that would mark U.S. "boots on the ground" for the first time. 
 
The president had previously pledged that U.S. troops would not deploy to Syria, but White House officials said the president's comments were taken out of context, and that the troops would not have a "combat mission" in Syria. 
 
However, the senior defense official would not rule out more U.S. troops going to Syria, or U.S. troops conducting joint combat operations with Syrian groups in the future. 
 
"The point is to get some guys on the ground, get eyes on, work with the units that are there fighting ISIL and see what more is possible. This is a start to gauge what's possible and in the meantime, help them with operational planning, tactics, logistics, key elements to be able to take and hold territory," the official said. 
 
But for now, the official said, the special operations forces would coordinate with local Syrian ground forces at their headquarters. Those groups include Syrian Kurds, Syrian Turkmen, Syrian Arabs and others.  
 
"For the foreseeable future, they will not be accompanying on any operations that these forces partake in," the official said. 
 
While Defense Secretary Ash Carter said earlier this week that he expected U.S. troops to conduct more raids in Iraq and Syria, the official said the forces deploying to Syria would not conduct any combat operations. 
 
The troops being deployed to Syria will arrive in a few weeks to a month from within the U.S., the official said, and will be deployed for "weeks to months." 
 
They will be deployed for less than 60 days at a time, the official added. 
 
The senior defense official said the U.S. has not notified Russia — who began an airstrike campaign in Syria last month — about the deployment, but said the U.S. forces would not be deployed to areas where Russian forces are striking. 
 
"The area we're planning to place these [special operations forces] is not an area that they have struck, nor would they need to strike ... so we do not anticipate any problems," the official said. 
 
The deployment is part of a new administration push against ISIS in Syria aimed at enabling local opposition groups to take back Raqqa, the terrorist group's stronghold. 
 
The U.S. is also planning to enhance the presence of U.S. special operations forces in northern Iraq, subject to Iraqi government approval, the official said. 
 
- Updated at 7:51 p.m.