Pentagon denies mission creep in Syria deployment

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The Pentagon pushed back Monday afternoon against criticism that deploying 250 troops to Syria constitutes mission creep in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), saying the deployment is needed to meet current requirements.

“These are specific capabilities … specific needs right now as we talk to our partners,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters. “And including our assessment, talking to local leaders on the ground in Syria, these are decisions that we think makes sense to accelerate this campaign and to further enable those local forces.”

{mosads}”This is not a question of putting in thousands of American forces to wage this fight,” he later added. “We are looking to others to carry this fight out but to do what we can to support them.”

President Obama announced Monday he had authorized sending another 250 troops to Syria. Previously, just 50 special operations troops were in the country.

Monday’s news, coupled with the Pentagon’s announcement last week that about 200 more troops will be sent to Iraq, has led to lawmakers from both parties slamming the administration’s incremental increase in the number of troops being sent to the region. Republicans say more are needed, and Democrats argue the gradual increases risk drawing the United States deeper into the conflicts.

Troops in Syria will not be on the front lines, Cook said, echoing the president.

Rather, their role will be to connect with, train and assist local forces, and provide intelligence from the ground, Cook said.

The Pentagon expects the troops to act similarly to the original 50 special operations forces sent in, he added.

“Force multipliers is the best way to look at this,” he said. “A small number of Americans with these kinds of capabilities can bring an enormous weight to bear in this fight and in support of these forces. And those forces who have come into contact and worked with U.S. forces, I think would attest to that.”

In additional to special operations forces, the 250 troops will include medical and logistical personnel, Cook said.

The administration settled on 250 on the recommendation of military commanders, Cook said.

Cook did not rule out the possibility of sending more troops to Iraq or Syria down the line. 

“We’re going to continue to look at every single opportunity we have, work with our local partners, to see how we can accelerate this campaign,” he said. “As you have seen from these specific — very specific — deployments and decisions, that what we’re looking at here is specific capabilities.”

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