Obama to send 250 additional US special forces troops to Syria

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Obama Is Expected to Send 250 Special Operations Troops to Syria

President Barack Obama will announce later on Monday plans to send up to 250 additional U.S. special forces troops to Syria to support local Syrian forces fighting against Islamic State, a White House adviser said.

The deployment will increase U.S. forces in Syria to about 300. Its goal is to accelerate recent gains against Islamic State and appears to reflect growing confidence in the ability of U.S.-backed forces inside Syria and Iraq to claw back territory from the hardline Sunni Islamist group.

"We've seen across parts of northern and eastern Syria progress as ISIL has been pushed out of some strongholds," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in the northern German city of Hanover, the last stop on Obama's six-day foreign tour.

"We want to accelerate that progress and we believe the commitment of additional U.S. special forces can play a critical role."

SEE ALSO: New charges in Boston beheading plot to support Islamic State

Obama will explain his decision in a speech at 11:25 a.m. in Hanover, where he discussed the Syria crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday. Obama and Merkel are due to hold talks with the leaders of Britain, France and Italy in the afternoon.

Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, controls the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria and is proving a potent threat abroad, claiming responsibility for major attacks in Paris in November and Brussels in March.

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Obama to send 250 additional US special forces troops to Syria
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. slamic State militants are barricading down for a possible assault on their de facto capital Raqqa, hiding among civilian homes and preventing anyone from fleeing, as international airstrikes intensify on the Syrian city in the wake of the Paris attacks. For many, the threat of missiles and bombs from the enemies of Islamic State is more of an immediate threat than the vicious oppression of the jihadisâ themselves. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
In this photo released on May 4, 2015, by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants pass by a convoy in Tel Abyad town, northeast Syria. In contrast to the failures of the Iraqi army, in Syria Kurdish fighters are on the march against the Islamic State group, capturing towns and villages in an oil-rich swath of the country's northeast in recent days, under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. (Militant website via AP)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 4, 2014, which is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the al-Qaida breakaway group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. For the al-Qaida breakaway group that overran parts of Iraq this week, the border between that country and Syria, where it is also fighting, may as well not even be there. The group, wants to establish a Shariah-ruled mini-state bridging both countries, in effect uniting a Sunni heartland across the center of the Mideast.
This file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, which is consistent with AP reporting, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province. The Islamic State was originally al-Qaida's branch in Iraq, but it used Syria's civil war to vault into something more powerful. It defied orders from al-Qaida's central command and expanded its operations into Syria, ostensibly to fight to topple Assad. But it has turned mainly to conquering territory for itself, often battling other rebels who stand in the way. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Moderate Syrian rebels are buckling under the onslaught of the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Some rebels are giving up the fight, crippled by lack of weapons and frustrated with the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Other, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
FILE - This image posted on a militant website on Saturday, June 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, appears to show militants from the Islamic State group with truckloads of captured Iraqi soldiers after taking over a base in Tikrit. Iraq won the battle to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State group, backed by a coalition of the unlikely in Iranian advisers, Shiite militias and U.S.-led airstrikes, but the country now faces what could be its most important battle: Winning the support of the Sunni. (AP Photo via militant website, File)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Once a vibrant, mixed city considered a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad, the eastern city of Raqqa is now a shell of its former life, transformed by al-Qaida militants into the nucleus of the terror group's version of an Islamic caliphate they hope one day to establish in Syria and Iraq. In rare interviews with The Associated Press, residents and activists in Raqqa describe a city where fear prevails, music has been banned, Christians have to pay religious tax in return for protection and face-veiled women and pistol-wielding men in jihadi uniforms patrol the streets. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
In this May 26, 2015 photo, Bilal Abdullah poses for a portrait in the village of Eski Mosul in northern Iraq, nearly a year after Islamic State militants took over the village. In the Islamic State's realm, a document testifying that one has "repented" from a heretical past must be carried at all times and it can mean the difference between life and death. Abdullah learned that not long after the extremists took over his home village. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, a girl holds a broom in the town of Eski Mosul, Iraq, which had been under the control of the Islamic State group for months. Most residents stayed in the town after it was liberated by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in January 2015. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on March 7, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group holds the IS flag as he dismantles a cross on the top of a church in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 8, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of Islamic State group's traffic police, right, writes a ticket to a driver, left, in Raqqa, Syria. Taxi drivers or motorists usually play the IS station on their radios - music, which is forbidden, can get the driver 10 lashes. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on May 4, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, people stand at the window of a media distribution point to receive CDs from Islamic State militants, right, in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this Sunday, May 17, 2015 photo, Sheikh Abdullah Ibrahim poses with his son while holding an Islamic State group-issued death certificate - all that he has left of his wife, Buthaina Ibrahim, an outspoken human rights activist and official, in the village of Eski Mosul, northern Iraq. There is no grave, no idea what was done with her body after the extremists took her from their home one night and killed her in a purge after overrunning the village north of Mosul, Iraq in June 2014. Given her government ties, IS fighters quickly demanded she apply for a repentance card. "She said she'd never stoop so low," her husband said. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on April 30, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, new recruits of the Islamic State train in Mosul, northern Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Dec. 24, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group writes in Arabic, "we are a people whom God has honored with Islam," on a newly painted wall in Raqqa, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, a resident sits on a hill overlooking the town of Eski Mosul, Iraq. The hole next to him is a former grave that was opened up by the Islamic State group militants and used as a sniper hideout. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on July 2, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Iraqi men gather around Islamic State group officials to sign cards testifying that they have "repented" from their heretical past, in Mosul, northern Iraq. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, Salim Ahmed, a former Iraqi Army member, holds the "repentance card" he received from the Islamic State group in June 2014 shortly after the militants took over his home village of Eski Mosul in northern Iraq. The document is part of the apparatus of control the Islamic State group has constructed across its self-declared "caliphate," the territory it conquered in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on May 14, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group's vice police known as "Hisba," right, reads a verdict handed down by an Islamic court sentencing many they accused of adultery to lashing, in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Jan. 14, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants kill a man they accused of being a homosexual by throwing him off a building in Syria's northeastern province of Hassakeh. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on March 7, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group destroys an icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the wall of a church in Mosul, Iraq. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Jan. 31, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, women in niqabs - enveloping black robes and veils that leaves only the eyes visible - sew niqabs, which are required for women in Islamic State-held territory, in a factory in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 10, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, two Syrian citizens, right, sit in the office of an inheritance judge of Islamic State group, in the town of al-Tabqa in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on April 17, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group's vice police known as "Hisba," patrols a market in Raqqa City, Syria. The Arabic words on the vest read, "The Islamic State - Hisba (vice police)." (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 10, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, two women sit in the office of an Islamic State group judge, center, at an Islamic court in al-Tabqa town in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on January 31, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, members of the Islamic State group, left, distribute niqabs, enveloping black robes and veils that leave only the eyes visible, to Iraqi women in Mosul, northern Iraq. In areas controlled by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, women must not only be covered, but usually are required to wear all black, with flat-soled shoes; for men, Western clothes or hair styles _even hair gel _ can draw suspicion. (Militant website via AP)
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Rhodes emphasized that the U.S. troops would not themselves be directly involved in combat, but would act as support for Syrian forces on the ground.

"The mission that they are being given is not to go into Syria and engage the enemy, to engage ISIL," he said. "They are not being sent there on a combat mission. They're being sent there on a mission to be advising and assisting and supporting the forces that are fighting ISIL on the ground."

While Obama has resisted putting U.S. troops into Syria, where a five-year civil war has killed at least 250,000 people, he sent 50 U.S. special operations forces to Syria last year in what U.S. officials described as a "counterterrorism" mission rather than an effort to tip the scales in the war.

Obama pledged to wind down wars in the Middle East when he was first elected in 2008. But in the latter part of his presidency he has found it necessary to keep or add troops to help with conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The president's international trip began in Riyadh, where he held talks with Gulf Arab monarchs concerned that Washington's commitment to the Middle East had diminished. He also spent three days in Britain before arriving in Germany on Sunday.

'WE HAVE MOMENTUM'

Obama has said the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State had made key gains in squeeze the group's territory in Iraq and Syria, reducing its numbers and cutting off its finances.

"We have momentum, and we intend to keep that momentum," he said earlier this month.

In Iraq, the group has been pulling back since December when it lost Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. In Syria, the jihadist fighters have been pushed from the strategic city of Palmyra by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

The Pentagon also announced last week that about 200 more troops would be deployed to Iraq, mainly to advise Iraqi troops fighting Islamic State.

Since U.S.-backed forces recaptured the strategic Syrian town of al-Shadadi in late February, a growing number of Arab fighters in Syria have offered to join the fight against the group, U.S. officials told Reuters in early April.

Syria dominated the Sunday talks between Obama and Merkel. The German leader had just returned from a trip to Turkey to see refugee camps along the border.

The European Union has grappled with the flood of about a million migrants last year, most fleeing the Syria crisis. Merkel pushed her EU partners to accept refugees, and recently hammered out a deal with Turkey to stop the migrant flow.

After meeting with Merkel for about 90 minutes, Obama told reporters he was "deeply concerned" about a surge in violence in Syria, where government forces have stepped up bombing of rebel-held areas around the strategic city of Aleppo.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton in Hanover, Germany, and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; writing by Noah Barkin; editing by Peter Graff)

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