WASHINGTON â President Obama will deploy a small number of American Special Operations forces to Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria to help local forces fight the Islamic State terrorist group, the White House announced on Friday.
The team will advise and assist opposition forces who are fighting the Islamic State in Syria, providing smoother and quicker access to equipment and logistical help, the official said. The decision adds a new level of risk to the Syrian enterprise, as it could bring the Special Operations troops into closer contact with the Islamic State, even if they are in Kurdish territory.
While administration officials plan to characterize the deployment as an enhancement of current strategy, it is actually a huge shift for a president who has said repeatedly that he will not put American combat boots on the ground in Syria.
An administration official said that the number of Special Forces troops who would deploy to northern Syria would be âfewer than 50â and that their mission would be to âhelp coordinate local ground forces and coalition efforts to counterâ the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
In addition, Mr. Obama has authorized deploying A-10 Warthog planes and F-15 fighter jets to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and has instructed his advisers to consult with the Iraqi government about establishing a Special Operations task force to further efforts to target Islamic State leaders there. He also ordered more military assistance to Jordan and Lebanon.
But the administration official, who provided the information before the official announcement on the condition of anonymity, emphasized that Mr. Obama saw the military efforts as supporting Secretary of State John Kerryâs push for a diplomatic and political settlement to the Syrian war, with talks underway in Vienna.
âOur intensified counter-ISIL campaign will support those efforts by continuing to strengthen opposition partners on the ground, while also coordinating the efforts of our coalition partners,â the official said.
Other steps were outlined earlier this week by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They said the United States would provide more equipment to groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and increase efforts to help Iraq retake the city of Ramadi.