Obama to announce plans to grow US Special Operations force in Syria – Washington Post

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President Obama will announce the addition of 250 Special Operations troops to the American advisory force in Syria, U.S. officials said Sunday, the administration’s latest move seeking to intensify pressure on the Islamic State.

A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss measures that have not yet been announced, said that Obama will make his decision public on Monday, during remarks at a technology fair in Germany.

“The president has authorized a series of steps to increase support for our partners in the region, including Iraqi security forces as well as local Syrian forces who are taking the fight to ISIL,” the official said. ISIL is another name for the Islamic State, the militant group that controls a wide swath of both countries.

The extra forces, which will be placed in areas of Syria that are removed from conflict and will travel in and out of the country, will bring the number of U.S. advisers there to about 300.

A U.S. defense official said the decision is aimed in part at helping to grow the ranks of Arab fighters in a network of rebel groups, now dominated by Kurdish fighters, that the United States is backing as it battles the Islamic State. The additional U.S. forces will advise those troops as they seek to isolate Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital in Syria.

“We’ve had success and obviously want to . . . sustain it, build on it and potentially garner more success,” the official said.

Obama’s intention to make the announcement Monday was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The decision to increase the number of Special Operations forces in Iraq and Syria was made earlier this month. It was determined that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter would announce an additional 200 troops during a visit to Baghdad and that the Syria announcement would wait for Obama’s arrival in Germany, where he is holding talks with the leaders of Germany, Britain, France and Italy.

As part of the Iraq announcement Carter made last week, Obama also has authorized U.S. commanders there to use Apache attack helicopters and deploy American advisers with lower-level Iraqi units to assist local troops in a future offensive to reclaim the city of Mosul. U.S. officials think those measures will enhance the effectiveness of Iraqi troops, but they also will expose U.S. forces to greater risk.

The increase is part of an overall acceleration in the fight against the Islamic State. Despite a string of what the administration has described as successes — including territory reclaimed from the militants in Iraq and Syria and the severing of supply and communication lines between Islamic State forces in the two countries — some aspects of the conflict have gone more slowly, or unsuccessfully, than anticipated.

While Iraqi military forces, backed by U.S. air power and other enhancements, retook the city of Ramadi early this year, plans to move toward Mosul, in northern Iraq, have dragged as the Baghdad government contends with economic and political difficulties, and the melding of Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish military forces into a unified offensive force has proved problematic.

The Iraqi military also continues to struggle with issues of morale, leadership and logistics.

In an interview last week with CBS News, Obama said he believed preparations for the Mosul offensive — what the military calls “shaping” operations to surround and weaken Islamic State forces there — should be finished this year and allow the “eventual” retaking of the city.

The plan to move toward Raqqa follows last year’s successful northern Syria offensive that was led primarily by Kurdish forces, aided by U.S. airstrikes, with some support from a group of Sunni opposition fighters the United States has been struggling to support. Raqqa, farther to the south, is a Sunni city that Kurdish forces are not eager to move toward, and where they would not be welcome.

A promising, partial cease-fire in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has seriously frayed in recent weeks, sparking renewed fighting in the northwest region near the Turkish border and complicating administration plans to begin air operations in aid of an opposition attempt to stop an Islamic State advance in that area.

Speaking to reporters late last week after a visit to Iraq, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Obama had not at that point made a decision to send the additional troops to Syria. But he said the president had promised to consider granting more resources as plans came together for advancing Syrian forces’ campaign against the Islamic State.

“It’s linked to our partners on the ground, in supporting our partners on the ground and their continued operations,” he said.

Jaffe reported from Hanover, Germany, and DeYoung reported from Washington.

Obama to announce plans to grow US Special Operations force in Syria – Washington Post