Home inContext U.S. to Deploy Forces to Syria, Allies Debate Other Measures

U.S. to Deploy Forces to Syria, Allies Debate Other Measures

Michael Johnson

The Obama administration announced Tuesday it will deploy additional special operations troops to Iraq and Syria, incrementally increasing the U.S. military’s capacity to fight the Islamic State. The decision comes as the UK and Germany also consider increasing their involvement in Syria following the terrorists attacks in Paris last month.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee that the “specialized expeditionary targeting force” would “conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders.” The unit will work with both Kurdish peshmerga fighters and central government forces in Iraq, but conduct “unilateral operations” inside Syria. Such raids, often conducted at night, have provided a valuable way to gain intelligence and kill or capture high value targets.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at a congressional hearing on Tuesday. (Photo: Reuters)

Carter did not offer specific details on how many personnel would be deployed, but an unnamed U.S. official cited by Agence France Presse estimated about 200 people. The troops will join the 50 special forces military advisors that the Pentagon announced it was sending to Syria in October to work with Kurdish and other anti-IS fighters.

Iraq’s central government welcomed the small targeting force, but the Prime Minister’s office reiterated that foreign ground troops were not needed in the conflict. Meanwhile, elements of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) said that the U.S. troops would be a “primary target” for its Shiite militias in Iraq.

European allies are also reassessing their roles fighting the Islamic State inside Syria. The House of Commons in the UK began debate Wednesday on whether British war planes already stationed in the region should strike Islamic State. Prime Minister David Cameron urged MPs to vote for the proposal, arguing that Islamic State fighters inside Syria were already planning attacks against British interests.

In contrast, Germany has ruled out airstrikes in Syria with its post-WWII constitution restricting military combat in foreign countries. However, the German cabinet did approve the deployment of Tornado reconnaissance aircraft, aerial tankers, a naval frigate, and 1,200 supporting troops to the area. Parliament will have to vote on the measure, which also includes increased training for the Iraq peshmerga. Critics of the proposal argue that there is still no plan to end the conflict given the lack of a long term political solution.