Obama: US forces won't be on Syrian 'front lines'

Obama: US forces won't be on Syrian 'front lines'
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President Obama said Monday that U.S. special operations forces in Syria will not be fighting “on the front lines” against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. 

During an interview with NBC News, the president pushed back against the idea that the new deployment violates his pledge not to put “boots on the ground” in Syria to fight ISIS. 

“We are not putting U.S. troops on the front lines fighting firefights with ISIL,” Obama said, using a different acronym for the group. 

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“I’ve been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting, like we did in Iraq, with battalions and occupations," he added. "That doesn’t solve the problem.”

Obama commented for the first time on his decision to send a small group of special operations forces to Syria, a move that deepened U.S. involvement in the conflict there in a way he has previously avoided. 

Fewer than 50 troops will help train, advise and assist local forces fighting the Islamic extremist group on the ground. But for years, Obama has resisted calls to send U.S. ground forces into Syria beyond one-time raids. 

The president is escalating his involvement in Syria at a time when Russia is conducting a bombing campaign to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad against opposition forces threatening to remove him from power. 

Obama, however, denied the move amounted to a change in the administration’s strategy in the war-torn country.

“Keep in mind that we have run special ops already and really this is just an extension of what we are continuing to do,” he said. 

American forces will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future and the White House has not ruled out sending more if they are successful in helping make gains on ISIS-held territory. 

Even though the U.S. troops do not have an explicit “combat mission,” U.S. officials have acknowledged they could find themselves in harm’s way. 

“There is no denying the amount of risk they are taking on here and they will be equipped to defend themselves,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last Friday.