October 24, 2016

US to boost military presence in Syria with 250 staff

The planned deployment will increase the number of US forces in Syria to about 300 [AP]

US President Barack Obama will announce plans to send 250 more troops to Syria, a sharp increase in the American presence working with local Syrian forces, White House adviser Ben Rhodes have said.

Obama will explain his decision in a speech in Hanover on Monday morning, after discussing the war in Syria with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, officials quoted by several news agencies said.

The deployment, which will increase US forces in Syria to about 300, aims to accelerate the process of driving back of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Rhodes said.

ISIL controls the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq and is proving a potent threat abroad, claiming credit for major attacks in Paris in November and Brussels in March.

While Obama has resisted sending US troops into Syria, he initially sent 50 US special operations personnel there last year.

The US officials described the forces as being on a “counterterrorism” mission rather than involved in an effort to tip the scales in the war, which UN envoy Staffan De Mistura estimates has killed 400,000 people.

Obama pledged to wind down wars in the Middle East when he was first elected in 2008. However, in the latter part of his presidency, he has made decisions to keep or add to the numbers of troops deployed to conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The president is ending a six-day international trip that began in Riyadh, where he held talks with Gulf Arab monarchs concerned that Washington’s commitment to the Middle East had waned.

After that meeting, Obama sidestepped a question about whether he would send special forces to Syria if talks failed to end the war, saying: “None of the options are good.”

Obama also said the US-led coalition fighting ISIL had squeezed the group’s territory in Iraq and Syria, reducing its numbers and cutting off its finances.

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