President Barack Obama announced on Monday that his administration would deploy an extra 250 special forces soldiers to build on successes against ISIS, a step that represents the biggest expansion of U.S. ground troops in Syria since the civil war there began.
The new deployment will increase U.S. forces in Syria to about 300. The decision, announced by Obama in Germany at the end of a six-day foreign tour, appears indicates increasing confidence in the ability of U.S.-backed forces to claw back territory from the hardline terrorist group.
“Given the success, I’ve approved the deployment of up to 250 additional U.S. personnel in Syria, including special forces to keep up this momentum,” Obama said in a speech at a trade fair in the northern city of Hanover, the last stop on a trip that has taken him to Saudi Arabia and Britain.
“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 added.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting in the audience, Obama also called on Europe and NATO allies to do more in the fight against ISIS, which is also known as ISIL.
The group controls the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria and a swathe of territory in between, and has proven a potent threat abroad, claiming responsibility for major attacks in Paris in November and Brussels in March.
“Even as European countries make important contributions against ISIL, Europe, including NATO, can still do more,” Obama said ahead of talks later in the day with Merkel and the leaders of Britain, France and Italy.
“In Syria and Iraq we need more nations contributing to their campaign. We need more nations contributing trainers to help build up local forces in Iraq. We need more nations to contribute economic assistance to Iraq so it can stabilize liberated areas and break the cycle of violent extremism so that ISIL cannot come back,” he said.
The main Syrian opposition welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy forces.
Salem al-Meslet, spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee, one of only a few HNC representatives still in Geneva for informal talks with the U.N. Special Envoy on Syria, said in a statement referring to ISIS or Daesh:
“President Obama’s decision to deploy 250 more troops to fight the Daesh in Syria is a good step. We must rid our country of this scourge. But Syria will not be free of terrorism until we see the end of the Assad regime’s reign of terror. We need help in freeing our country from Assad as well as from the Daesh.”