Obama to send 250 additional US special forces troops to Syria

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
A civilian woman carries her child during a battle with Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Civilians walk past Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) during a battle with Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
A displaced man, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, carries a woman in the Mithaq district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from clashes during a battle with Islamic State militants in the Mithaq district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
An Iraqi soldier is seen during a battle with Islamic State militants, north of Mosul, Iraq, December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
Iraqi people flee the Islamic State stronghold in the town of Bartella, east of Mosul, December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Iraqi people flee the Islamic State stronghold in the town of Bartella, east of Mosul, December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Iraqi rapid response forces cook food in their headquarters during the war against the Islamic state militants east of Mosul, Iraq, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
Mohammad Hassan, whose hand was chopped off by Islamic State militants, sits outside a house at Nimrud village, south of Mosul, Iraq, December 13, 2016. Picture taken December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Displaced Iraqi boys, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, warm themselves by a fire in Khazer camp, Iraq,December 15, 2016.REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Displaced Iraqi woman, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, bids her relatives farewell as she leave Khazer camp to go home, Iraq December 10, 2016.REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Iraqi Christians come to visit the heavily damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
An Iraqi father (L) mourns the death of his son, who was killed during clashes in the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, in al-Samah neighborhood, Iraq December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
An Iraqi girl, who was wounded during clashes in the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, lies on a bed at a field hospital in al-Samah neighborhood, Iraq December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Displaced people who fled the clashes transfer to camps during a battle with Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, November 30, 2016 REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) gestures in military vehicle during a battle with Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, November 30, 2016 REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man gestures as other men sit on the ground as an Iraqi Special forces intelligence team check their ID cards as they search for Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Two men hold hands as an Iraqi Special forces intelligence team searches for Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters are seen in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Boys stand in front of oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Civilians flee fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from clashes during a battle with Islamic State militants at the airport of Tal Afar west of Mosul, Iraq November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Shi'ite fighters carries a weapon during a battle with Islamic State militants at the airport of Tal Afar west of Mosul, Iraq November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A displaced woman from the outskirts of Mosul covers herself in a blanket in the town of Bashiqa, after it was recaptured from the Islamic State, east of Mosul, Iraq, November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
A girl attends classes after the city was recaptured from the Islamic State militants in Qayyara, Iraq, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
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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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