The U.S. Defense Department is reportedly considering to ask President Donald J. Trump to send ground troops into Syria to fight against the Islamic State, a fundamental shift from the previous administration’s Syria policy and a major escalation in risk to U.S. troops in the region.
The Obama administration shunned from putting American boots on the ground in Syria, partly because it required tremendous military commitment and cost. The U.S. will have to protect the troops deployed to Syria from the ground and the air, a complicated task considering an array of rogue militant groups and countries involved in the Syrian conflict.
“It’s possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time,” CNN cited on U.S. defense official saying.
Another official told Reuters that “it’s way, way speculative” to draw conclusions about U.S. plans to deploy troops to Syria. The idea is reportedly only one of many options that the Pentagon is preparing to present to Mr. Trump by the end of this month.
Eradicating ISIS once and for all was Mr. Trump’s one of major election promises. The centerpiece of anti-ISIS efforts, however, is liberating Raqqa, the caliphate’s de facto capital, and Iraq’s Mosul, the biggest city ISIS controls.
In Iraq, local army, trained by more than 5,000 U.S. special forces, is helping the U.S. take over cities liberated from the ISIS. But in Syria, Kurdish YPG militias were the most effective ground forces that coordinated the fight against the extremist group.
The previous administration angered Turkey for supporting the Syrian Kurdish militants despite repeated pleas by Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping that the new Trump administration may closely work with Ankara and dump Syrian Kurds.
Sending ground forces to Syria will also allow Washington to coordinate the war against ISIS with its NATO ally Turkey. Ankara made it clear that it won’t participate in Raqqa operation if Syrian Kurdish groups join the campaign to liberate the capital.
Last summer, Turkey sealed its border from ISIS in a military campaign that claimed lives of at least 60 Turkish troops. Turkish army is struggling to capture a Syrian town called al-Bab, and asked for Russian and U.S. air strikes.
Washington also needs to factor in Russia in case it deploys troops to Syria, where Moscow is propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Trump previously expressed readiness to work with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to fight against ISIS in Syria.
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