Obama sending troops to Syria

President Obama has authorized a small number of U.S. special operations forces to deploy to northern Syria, according to a senior administration official. 
The group of fewer than 50 troops will “help coordinate local ground forces and coalition efforts” to fight Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces, the official said. 
{mosads}The move would put U.S. boots on the ground in Syria for the first time since that country’s civil war began. It is expected to be formally announced later on Friday.

The U.S. is also deploying A-10s and F-15s to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and is working with Iraq to create a special forces task force to “enhance our ability to target ISIL leaders and networks,” the official said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.

The decision comes as the administration ramps up its military campaign against ISIS, which controls large parts of both countries. It also comes the same day Secretary of State John Kerry is in Vienna for multilateral talks on Syria’s future, which prior to leaving he said would be like charting “a course of out hell.”

“Our intensified counter-ISIL campaign will support those efforts by continuing to strengthen opposition partners on the ground, while also coordinating the efforts of our coalition partners,” he said Friday.

Although the U.S. has already been advising local forces in Iraq, this would mark a new mission in Syria, where the U.S. has been conducting airstrikes and equipping moderate Syrian rebels. 

“At the President’s direction, the Administration has been looking at ways to intensify our counter-ISIL campaign,” an administration official said. “In that effort, we have been 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.” 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said the “more serious effort” against ISIS was overdue, but questioned the effectiveness of the administration’s plan.

“I do not see a strategy for success, rather it seems the administration is trying to avoid a disaster while the president runs out the clock,” he said in a statement.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed those concerns.
“The president continues to have no realistic strategy to address the removal of [Syrian leader Bashar] Assad, the growth of Russian and Iranian influence, or the increasing strength of al Nusrah,” he said in a written statement.
“And despite today’s announcement, there is still no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to achieve the president’s stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) struck a similar note.
“[It’s] time for the Administration to propose a unified strategy that addresses the intertwined challenges posed by ISIL and President Assad,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.) called the decision a mistake, saying the chaos in Syria makes casualties likely. He also questioned the legality of sending troops without an Authorization for Use of Military Force.
“Imagine the scenario in which American forces are deployed alongside Syrian opposition forces and come into combat with ISIL, who are also being targeted by Russian and Syrian military forces via land and air,” he wrote in a letter to Obama on Friday.
“The margin for error diminishes considerably, and the consequences of either accidental or intentional fire on our ground forces–or Russian and Syrian forces–expand greatly.”
Last week, U.S. special operations forces participated in a raid in Iraq with Kurdish Peshmerga forces to rescue Iraqi hostages. An Army Delta Force commando was killed in the mission. 

Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told members of Congress that the U.S. expects to do more raids — either partnered or unilaterally, and defense officials indicated they would be increased in both Iraq and Syria.

A progressive group slammed the decision as a “broken promise” by the president.

“Putting boots on the ground in Syria is both a broken promise by the president and bad policy,” said Zack Malitz, campaign manager at CREDO Action.

“In 2013 President Obama stated unequivocally that he would ‘not put American boots on the ground in Syria,’” Malitz continued. “By breaking that promise today, President Obama is putting American lives at risk and drawing the United States further into a conflict that can not be resolved militarily.”

When he announced military action in Syria in 2013, Obama pledged U.S. ground forces would not be deployed there.

“I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria,” he said. “I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Rebecca Kheel contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 3:01 p.m.

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