The White House spokesman has confirmed that US is planning to send up a small number of special forces operatives to advise “moderate opposition” in Syria on the ground.
Josh Earnest refused to give more information to the reporters during the briefing citing operational security. He insisted that the mission of advisers in Syria will be to build the capacity of local forces to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL).
Earnest reiterated that the administration is not planning to put “boots on the ground,” otherwise they would be sending “more than 50 troops.”
The White House press secretary insisted that the deployment is merely an “intensification” of the US campaign against IS that began in September 2014, noting that US special forces have conducted a hostage rescue operation in Syria last year, and a combat raid against an IS leader this spring.
“We have shown a desire to intensify those elements of our strategy that have shown the most promise,” he told reporters, referring to the improvement in combat capabilities of Iraqi forces trained and advised by US troops.
“These forces do not have a combat mission,” Earnest said repeatedly.
Asked about the legal framework for sending forces to Syria, Earnest cited the 2001 congressional authorization to use military force, passed following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The presence of any sort of US troops in Syria was not authorized by either the elected government in Damascus or by the United Nations.
Though Earnest did not say specifically which forces the US advisers will be aiding, he did refer to a group 45 kilometers outside the IS capital of Raqqa, which the media has been calling ‘Syrian Democratic Forces.’
US aircraft delivered ammunition to the group earlier this month. However, the Arab militias have told reporters that most of the supplies ended up with the Kurdish YPG, whose promised advance towards Raqqa has stalled due to the protests of the US ally Turkey.
Doubling down or re-calibrating? After finding itself painted into a corner, the Obama administration appears to be doing both when it comes to Syria. However, it is unclear whether either approach will generate the desired outcomes. In the meantime, Russia and its allies have taken matters into their own hands.
CrossTalking with Ray McGovern, Eric Draitser, and Brian Becker.