After years of denying that American troops will deploy to Syria, President Obama has changed course and decided to send troops to help in the fight against ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State.
The plan is for the Special Operations troops to train and advise Kurdish and Arab militias attempting to scale back ISIS’ control in Raqqa — ISIS’ self-declared caliphate’s capital. Less than 50 Special Operations troops will be deployed. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday that the deployment would not be a “combat mission” but that notion was challenged by military experts, according to CNN.
Complicated from the start, the rivalries in Syria have grown increasingly intricate as Russia began an airstrike campaign in late September. The Obama administration’s strategy in Syria to date has wielded lackluster results. Training was scheduled for 5,400 rebels in 2015 but only about 50 had received such training by late July. The plan was scrapped last month while debates over a potential no-fly zone or safe-zone have gone nowhere.
The latest planned deployment of American troops is facing skepticism from across the political spectrum. Some have said that deploying troops should require congressional approval.
“The administration’s announcement that it will deploy special operations forces into Syria to combat ISIL marks a major shift in U.S. policy,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement. “This shift in policy is a strategic mistake. Regardless of my views, the War Powers Resolution requires Congress to debate and authorize the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria.”
Some Republicans believe Obama’s latest action is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done.
“The president has the right goal, and he has since last year when he finally realized the Islamic State is not the JV team,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AZ), told CNN. “But he’s consistently not given the means needed to achieve the goal of destroying the Islamic State.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the House Armed Services Chairman, said, “these steps may prove to be too little too late.”
Most Democrats though worry about the prospect of getting involved in the four-year quagmire that is the Syrian Civil War.
“I continue to believe that we must not commit ground combat forces to the fight in Syria or Iraq,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), told CNN. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) meanwhile urged for “a comprehensive strategy” that would see the conclusion to the wars in Iraq and Syria. Regional experts have been saying for some time though that the Syrian war looks set to continue unabated.
An earlier version of this post said Sen. Brian Schatz was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee instead of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.