Saturday, October 31, 2015

U.S. to Send Special Forces to Syria (VIDEO)

A major development --- and an indication that the Obama White House is deeply worried about its foreign policy legacy. They lost Iraq. And the spillover's spreading across the Middle East.

NBC's Richard Engel reports at the video below.

And at the Wall Street Journal, "Deployment of up to 50 commandos would be first sustained U.S. ground presence in Syria":

WASHINGTON—The U.S. is sending special-operations forces to northeastern Syria, a shift in strategy that establishes the first sustained American military presence in the campaign against Islamic State in the war-ravaged country.

Up to 50 U.S. special-operations troops will assist Syrian rebel units spearheading what the Pentagon says would be a new military offensive against the militant group, marking a sharp escalation in the level of direct U.S. involvement on the ground inside Syria. The American forces are to link up with local forces in Kurdish-controlled territory whose mission will be to choke off supply lines to Islamic State militants in their Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

The move marks a change for President Barrack Obama who had long promised not to send ground forces to Syria.

“They are not being deployed with a combat mission,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “The mission of our men and women on the ground has not changed.”

If the initial deployment bears fruit, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday that he would be open to deploying more forces.

“We are going to continue to innovate, to build on what works,” Mr. Carter told reporters on a military jet as it landed in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the first leg of a trip through Asia. “Our role fundamentally and the strategy is to enable local forces. But does that put U.S. forces in harm’s way? It does, no question about it.”

The first phase of the new campaign is expected to kick off with an operation in northern Syria as early as next week, officials said. U.S. drones and fighter planes will provide the Syrian fighters with air support.

The decision to send troops coincides with an administration shift on the fate of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad in international talks under way in Vienna.

While U.S. officials once demanded Mr. Assad leave as part of any truce, they have signaled a willingness to let the dictator remain in power for several months or more during a political transition.

Under Mr. Obama’s new orders, the American commandos will operate in Syria under what the Pentagon calls an advise-and-assist mission, and will not accompany local forces on any of their operations “for the foreseeable future,” a senior U.S. defense official said.

But other defense officials said they couldn’t rule out the possibility that the forces would be pulled into occasional firefights with Islamic State military given their proximity to the confrontation line. The officials cited as an example last week’s raid in Iraq in which a U.S. commando was killed.

The decision to send ground forces to Syria drew criticism from some Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Some lawmakers charged that Mr. Obama was erring by putting U.S. military personnel in harm’s way, and others warned that the commitment was too small to make a difference.

“I firmly believe that the deployment of American ground forces in Syria is not the solution,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.) said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) called the decision “another tactical move in the absence of a comprehensive strategy for Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East that does nothing more than create the appearance of serious action.”

Since the start of the war in Syria in 2011, Mr. Obama has sought to keep U.S. ground forces out of the country, although the Pentagon has conducted a limited number of raids there using special-operations forces since mid-2014.