GOP chair doubts 'large' ground force in Syria

GOP chair doubts 'large' ground force in Syria

The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday that he doesn’t foresee the United States sending a "large ground force" into Syria.

“I do not see the United States putting a large ground force in to take and occupy territory in Syria,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas) told reporters Thursday. “I do believe this assist role is the right one for us there. Of course, having said that, that’s a long way from saying I see the solution of Syria. I don’t claim that at all.”

CNN reported Wednesday that one of the options the Pentagon is considering presenting to President Trump to help speed up the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is sending conventional ground combat forces into northern Syria for the first time.

"It's possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time," one Defense Department official told CNN.

U.S. officials are reportedly characterizing the idea as “a point of discussion,” not a formal proposal.

Right now, 500 U.S. special operation forces are authorized to be in Syria, a number set by the Obama administration.

But the United States has yet to send conventional forces into Syria. Doing so would significantly increase the U.S. presence in a country with a battlefield complicated by its own civil war.

In his comments Thursday, Thornberry highlighted the special operators already in the nation.

“I don’t like some of these terms because obviously we have people on the ground who are helping the coalition in Syria, people on the ground who are helping the Iraqi military, and we've had casualties from those people who are on the ground,” he said.

Thornberry also expressed concern, based on testimony the committee received from experts this week, that Syria will continue to be a safe haven for terrorists even if “things go really well.”

“What I am concerned about, among other things, as you heard, was the idea that however Syria goes in the foreseeable future, there will be significant terrorist groups using it as a base of operations, controlling or directing terrorist attacks from there,” he said. “Some of them may be al Qaeda affiliates, some of them may be ISIS, but we have seen all around the world that in ungoverned spaces terrorists thrive and the danger to us increases.”