US considers deploying special forces in Syria, helicopters in Iraq to counter ISIS

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, October 27, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Asharq Al-Awsat, on : Wednesday, 28 Oct, 2015

The potential deployments would aim to advance specific, limited military objectives in the two countries, US officials said

Washington, Reuters/Asharq Al-Awsat—The United States is considering sending a small number of special operations forces to Syria and attack helicopters to Iraq as it weighs options to build momentum in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), US officials said on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama, deeply averse to overcommitting American troops to unpopular wars in the Middle East, could view some of the options as more viable than others as he approaches the final stretch of his presidency.

Still, Obama’s administration is under pressure to ramp up America’s effort, particularly after the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to ISIS in May and the failure of a US military program to train and arm thousands of Syrian rebels.

Two US officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations, said any deployments would be narrowly tailored, seeking to advance specific, limited military objectives in both Iraq and Syria.

That option includes temporarily deploying some US special operations forces inside of Syria to advise moderate Syrian opposition fighters for the first time and, potentially, to help call in US airstrikes, one official said.

Other possibilities, including sending a small number of Apache attack helicopters, and US forces to operate them, to Iraq, as well as taking steps to bolster other Iraqi capabilities needed to claw back territory from ISIS.

The options appeared to stop short of deploying American troops in any direct ground combat roles, something Obama has so far ruled out.

One of the officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the proposals were still in a conceptual stage – meaning that even if any were approved in the coming days, a US military deployment could still be weeks or months away.

The Pentagon and White House declined comment on the options, which were also reported by The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Earlier on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter signaled his intent to step up the US military’s activity in Iraq and Syria, just days after US forces participated in a raid to rescue ISIS hostages in Iraq.

One US soldier was killed in that mission.

“We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground,” Carter told a Senate hearing, using another acronym for the militant group.

Marine Corp General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate hearing he would consider recommending putting more US forces with Iraqi troops to support the ISIS fight if it improved chances of defeating the militants.

“If it had operational or strategic impact and we could reinforce success, that would be the basic framework within which I’d make a recommendation for additional forces to be co-located with Iraqi units,” Dunford said, without elaborating.

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