The Defense Department may soon propose that the US send conventional ground combat forces into northern Syria to speed up the fight against ISIS. “It’s possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time”, one defense official told CNN. But he emphasized that any decision is ultimately up to President Trump, who has ordered his defense secretary to produce a proposal to combat ISIS before the end of the month. Sending troops to Syria is just one of several ideas that may be presented to the President, he continued.
The move would significantly alter US military operations in Syria if approved, and could put troops on the ground within weeks. Until now, only small teams of Special Operations forces have operated in Syria, providing training and assistance to anti-ISIS opposition groups on the ground. CNN also reports that Trump may be advised to increase, or disregard altogether, the US troop limit in Iraq, which is set at 5,262. This total does not include short-term assignments. There are 5,155 troops currently deployed to Iraq. There’s also talk in the Pentagon about further collaboration with Russia, and for providing arms to Kurdish groups in northern Syria. To assuage Turkey of its concerns over Kurdish fighters, US troops may be used as a counterweight, CNN reported.
Military.com reported on Tuesday that US Special Operations Command claimed the US-led coalition against the Islamic State had killed 60,000 militants in two years, an increase of 10,000 from December. What their exact mission would be is not yet clear, but one goal of their their presence would be to help reassure Turkey that Kurdish forces are not posing a threat to Ankara’s interests. It’s possible some troops would deploy first to Kuwait and then move into Syria.
The Obama administration never embraced the idea of ground combat troops because of the inherent risks involved. If the idea is approved, it would signal a fundamental change with the Trump administration’s willingness to accept such risk. For one thing, it would be a sign of an increased willingness by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford to accept more risk for US troops in the hope of gaining ground on ISIS. At his confirmation hearing, Mattis was not asked about putting more troops into Syria, but he did explain how he would seek to change US military efforts in Iraq and Syria from Obama administration.
“I think it’s getting [into combat] as rapidly as possible, where it would be a more accelerated campaign,” Mattis said.