President Barack Obama announced on Monday the biggest expansion of U.S. ground troops in Syria since its civil war began, but the move was unlikely to mollify Arab allies angry over Washington’s cautious approach to the conflict.
The deployment of up to 250 Special Forces soldiers increases U.S. forces in Syria roughly sixfold and is aimed at helping militia fighters who have clawed back territory from Islamic State militants in a string of victories.
Defence experts said giving more fighters on the ground access to U.S. close air support could shift the momentum in Syria. But a senior member of the Saudi royal family who asked not to be identified dismissed the decision as “window dressing.” In announcing the deployment, Obama emphasized the importance of sustaining the gains made in the fight against Islamic State, although he cautioned that the U.S. forces would not be spearheading the battle.
“They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces as they continue to drive ISIL back,” he said in a speech in the German city of Hanover, using an acronym for Islamic State. Obama was speaking on the last stop of a foreign tour that also took him to Saudi Arabia and Britain. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her rival, Bernie Sanders, voiced support on Monday for the deployment. “These Special Forces will continue to provide critical support to local forces on the ground who ultimately must be the ones to win this fight,” Clinton’s campaign said in a statement. The former secretary of state previously called for a tougher approach to fighting Islamic State militants, including more air strikes and Special Forces.