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US ground troops set for Syria deployment

October 31, 2015

The US has announced it will be sending a small group of special forces in support of rebels fighting the "Islamic State" militant group. Defense Secretary Carter said the move was in line with US strategy in Syria.

An estimated 3,400 troops are deployed in Iraq to support anti-"Islamic State" forces
An estimated 3,400 troops are deployed in Iraq to support anti-"Islamic State" forcesImage: Getty Images/J. Moore

The US announced on Friday the first deployment of ground troops to Syria, while diplomats from external countries involved in the Syrian conflict met in Vienna to hash out a solution to the crisis in the Middle East country.

Handed down from US President Barack Obama, the decision to deploy a small special forces team marks an apparent reversal from his 2013 statement: "I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria."

White House Press Secretary John Earnest said the team will not engage in a "combat mission," and serve to "train, advise and assist" rebel groups fighting the "Islamic State" militant group.

"Our strategy in Syria hasn't changed…These forces do not have a combat mission," Earnest said on Friday, adding that the group would comprise fewer than 50 soldiers.

'Gather momentum'

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the president's decision was in line with the US' strategy to defeat the militant group, which took over large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

"As we think of new ways and…develop new opportunities to support capable and motivating forces we will consider those [that work]; we will make recommendations to the president," Carter said.

"Our role fundamentally, and the strategy, is to enable local forces, but does that put US forces in harm's way? It does, no question about it," Carter said during a trip to Alaska.

Earlier this month marked the first time a US soldier was killed during a ground operation since 2013. The incident occurred as special forces supported a Kurdish-led mission to free hostages held by the "Islamic State" militant group.

The announcement comes as talks aimed at securing a political transition in Syria ended with diplomats calling for a nationwide truce between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels.

ls/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)