- Move comes a week after U.S. announced more forces for Iraq
- U.S. seeking ways to bolster the fight against Islamic State
President Barack Obama will send 250 additional military personnel to Syria as part of the effort to combat Islamic State, as the U.S. seeks to increase pressure on the terrorist group.
The move, which will increase the number of U.S. service members operating in the country to about 300, comes amid an administration review of how to extend recent advances against the militant network. Obama announced the plans Monday during a speech in Hanover, Germany before a meeting with the leaders of the U.K., Germany, Italy, and France.
Obama said the additional special forces personnel won’t “be leading the fight on the ground” and will instead be focused on providing training to local groups who are fighting Islamic State. He also called on more nations to contribute to the air campaign against the terrorists.
The limited force Obama is sending allows him to say he’s standing by his refusal to deploy substantial ground combat troops to the region, attempting instead to bolster local fighters. On the other hand, the move may help the U.S. capitalize on gains that have seen Islamic State’s territory shrink. It comes just a week after Obama approved increasing the U.S. forces deployed to Iraq and allowed them to deploy closer to the front lines.
“What we’ve seen is the small team that we put into Syria several months ago has been very effective in serving as a force multiplier because they are able to provide advice and support to the forces that are fighting against ISIL on the ground in Syria,” said Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser, using an acronym for the terror group. “We want to accelerate that progress.”
The effort comes as a fragile cease-fire in Syria has broken down, casting doubt on the possibility of a political solution to the country’s bloody civil war, which has fueled the rise of IS and left 400,000 people dead, according to the chief UN envoy to the talks.
On Sunday, Obama said he was “deeply concerned about the upsurge in fighting in Syria over the last several days.”
The struggling peace process -- and not the additional U.S. troops -- was the main topic of the talks between Obama and his European counterparts on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
“It’s clear that everybody needs to engage, but the focus was very strongly on a political solution and the question of how to proceed,” Merkel told reporters after the meeting.
The troop increase also comes as the president’s allies in Europe have been coping with a flood of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East.
During a press conference with Merkel before the meeting, Obama acknowledged that the influx of migrants, the biggest since World War II, was politically challenging but said the German chancellor was on “the right side of history” for welcoming more than a million refugees into her country.
He also said he opposes proposals to impose a “safe zone” for refugees in Syria.
“As a practical matter, sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us being willing to militarily take over a chunk of that country,” Obama said Sunday. “And that requires a big military commitment” to protect refugees from attacks.