WASHINGTON,— The Obama administration is considering sending 250 additional U.S. special forces to Syrian Kurdistan to advise Kurdish-led alliance groups as part of a broader Pentagon recommendation on how to increase the pace of operations against Islamic State (IS or ISIS), a U.S. defense official said Friday, CNN reported.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been formed last October, from groups the powerful Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) with smaller Arab and Christian militias in a coalition intended to take on IS.
The goal is to lay the groundwork for local forces to retake both Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, and eliminate ISIS’ ability to use them as areas from which to plan external attacks.
President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of that goal after a meeting with top commanders at the White House earlier this week.
“We should no longer tolerate the kinds of positioning that is enabled by them having headquarters in Raqqa and Mosul. We’ve got to keep on putting the pressure on them,” Obama said Tuesday.
An increased level of special forces is just one of a number of possibilities.
If approved, these troops would grow the current U.S. Special Operations effort of up to 50 troops authorized to be in Syrian Kurdistan. They are there to provide advice and assistance to moderate Syrian forces fighting ISIS.
The 50 U.S. special forces have been deployed in Syrian Kurdistan in November 2015.
The Kurdish YPG forces, which the U.S. and Russia consider an ally in the fight against Islamic State, are the most effective group fighting IS in Syria, as the Kurdish militia has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.
That effort has proven successful in several recent battles, including efforts to cut ISIS travel between Raqqa and Syria and to retake the key town of Shaddadi in Syria.
On March 17, 2016 Kurdish parties, including the powerful Democratic Union Party (PYD) and their allies, announced the creation of a “federal system” in Syrian Kurdistan. Both the Syrian government and an opposition coalition have rejected the announcement.
“We are considering a number of different proposals to accelerate the defeat of ISIL by better enabling local forces, but no decisions have been made,” said Navy spokesman Capt. Jeff A. Davis, using a different acronym for the terror group.
U.S. officials had originally told CNN the proposed increase would be just a few dozen because of the need to provide additional support forces such as aviation and intelligence. But another emerging line of thinking is to agree to an overall significant increase, publicly announce it and then send in the forces gradually over time.
The U.S. military has also restarted a small training effort for Syrian anti-ISIS fighters months after an initial effort failed.
The current training program has small numbers of U.S.-selected fighters from various groups, transporting them across the border to Turkey for several days of basic training. The fighters are given radios and taught how to communicate with U.S. forces. When they see potential targets, they inform the U.S., which then sends its own reconnaissance aircraft to determine if the target should be struck.
Options to increase efforts in Iraq may be less dramatic. U.S. officials are trying to see if the Iraqi government would accept additional fire support from either ground-based artillery or Apache helicopters. Additional U.S. trainers are expected to be sent to Iraq, with all of the increases aimed at helping the Iraqi forces prepare to retake Mosul.