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US to Send Special Operations Forces to Syria

An Army Special Forces communications sergeant, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), spots targets and calls adjustments for his shooter on a mountainside at Twentynine Palms, Calif., March 14, 2014. (US Defense Department photo by Charles Santamaria)
An Army Special Forces communications sergeant, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), spots targets and calls adjustments for his shooter on a mountainside at Twentynine Palms, Calif., March 14, 2014. (US Defense Department photo by Charles Santamaria)

The U.S. plans to send a small team of Special Operations forces to Syria as boots-on-the-ground advisers to rebel groups, according to military sources. President Barack Obama has authorized "fewer than 50" Special Operations forces to deploy to northern Syria, The Associated Press reported.

The American troops will assist Kurdish and other rebel groups in the northern part of the country fight militants associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in an effort to jumpstart a push against the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqaa, military sources told Military.com.

The deployment of small Special Ops teams would be the first into Syria since the U.S. began the military buildup in the Mideast in June of 2014 to counter ISIS after the militants swept out of Syria into Iraq.

The move is expected to be announced at 12:30 p.m. after a scheduled meeting at the White House between President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

The decision comes a week after Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler became the first American service member killed in action against the Islamic State.

A Delta Force member and 20-year Army veteran with 14 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Wheeler was killed during an Oct. 22 night raid on an ISIS prison near the town of Hawija, about 30 miles south of Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk in Iraqi.

Congressional critics were already questioning the wisdom of the deployment as Russia continues its own military buildup and bombing campaign in Syria in support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the Hosue Amred Services Committee, said sending U.S. commandoes into Syria was more evidence that the Obama administration had been following a "failed policy" against the Islamic State. "I'm concerned that the administration is trying to put in place limited measures -- too late -- that are not going to make a difference," Thornberry told NBC News.

"A more serious effort against ISIS in Syria is long overdue," the congressman said in a separate statement to Military.com. "Absent a larger coherent strategy, however, these steps may prove to be too little too late. I do not see a strategy for success, rather it seems the Administration is trying to avoid a disaster while the President runs out the clock."

--Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com.

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