Author : REBECCA KHEEL
Posted : 02/22/17 the hill
More U.S. troops may be sent to Syria as local forces prepare to retake the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) de facto capital, the commander of U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.
Asked by a CBS reporter traveling with him to the Middle East whether more U.S. troops will be sent to Syria, Gen. Joseph Votel replied, “Perhaps.”
Local forces in Syria “don’t have as good mobility. They don’t have as much firepower, so we have to be prepared to fill in some of those gaps for them, and that may involve additional fire support capability, a variety of other things that we bring in to help offset some of the gaps that they have, and we take the burden on ourselves for that aspect of the fight,” Votel said, according to CBS.
Right now, 500 U.S. special operators are authorized to be on the ground in Syria. A U.S.-led coalition also supports local forces with airpower.
The U.S.-led coalition has been supporting a coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces as they work to isolate Raqqa. But the actual assault into the city has been complicated by a debate over which fighters will lead it.
The United States considers Kurdish forces to be the most effective ground partner in Syria. But coalition partner Turkey considers them terrorists connected to Kurdish separatists within its own borders.
For Arab fighters to lead, there would likely need to be more of them recruited, trained and armed.
Votel said he is “very concerned about maintaining momentum” in the campaign, according to CBS.
Still, CBS added, Votel stressed that the Pentagon was not considering sending American combat troops to take the lead and that the strategy developed during the Obama administration of supporting local forces would not change.
Col. John Dorrian, a coalition spokesman, likewise stressed that any potential additional U.S. forces would work “by, with and through” local forces, highlighting the additional U.S. advisers, security and forward air controllers brought into Iraq prior to the operation to retake Mosul.
“That fundamental principal isn’t going to change,” Dorrian said at a briefing Wednesday.
The Pentagon is nearing the end of a 30-day review of its counter-ISIS strategy ordered by President Trump. The Pentagon said Tuesday the review would be done next week, in time to make Trump’s deadline