The United Stated will send as many as 200 additional American troops to Syria to help Kurdish and Arab fighters capture the ISIS group’s key stronghold of Raqqa, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Saturday.
The extra troops will include special operations forces and are in addition to 300 U.S. troops already authorized for the effort to recruit, organize, train and advise local Syrian forces to combat ISIS.
The sooner we crush both the fact and the idea of a state “based on ISIS’s barbaric ideology, the safer we’ll all be”, he said at the Manama Dialogue security conference.
Addressing a security conference in Bahrain, Carter said this step would bring to bear the “full weight of U.S. forces around the theater of operations like the funnel of a giant tornado.”
Carter also criticized Middle East partners for failing to provide more military muscle in the broader campaign to defeat ISIS and counter extremism, calling on them to do more for their own defense.
Carter noted that many Sunni-led Gulf countries have expressed concern about the spread of Iranian influence in the region.
“The fact is, if countries in the region are worried about Iran’s destabilizing activities – a concern the United States shares – they need to get in the game. That means getting serious about starting to partner more with each other, and investing in the right capabilities for the threat.”
Carter said the 200 extra troops going to Syria will help local forces in their anticipated push to retake Raqqa and to deny sanctuary to ISIS after Raqqa is captured.
He said President Barack Obama approved the troop additions last week.
Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria are the pillars of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate, and recapturing them would be a pivotal defeat for the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists.
Carter said that despite the eventual defeat of ISIS in Syria the violence there would not stop until an end was put to the civil war, and Russia’s intervention to back head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad had only added fuel to the fire.
Russia entered into the war saying it wanted to promote a smooth political transition and fight ISIS, Carter said.
“But then it did neither of those things,” he added.
“These uniquely skilled operators will join the 300 U.S. special operations forces already in Syria, to continue organizing, training, equipping, and otherwise enabling capable, motivated, local forces to take the fight to ISIL,” Carter said in his address to the IISS Manama Dialogues in the Bahraini capital, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
“By combining our capabilities with those of our local partners, we’ve been squeezing ISIL by applying simultaneous pressure from all sides and across domains, through a series of deliberate actions to continue to build momentum,” he said.
The military push is complicated by the predominant role played by local Kurdish fighters, who are the most effective U.S. partner against IS in Syria but are viewed by Turkey — a key U.S. ally — as a terrorist threat.
A senior defense official said the troop boost announced by Carter will give the U.S. extra capability to train Arab volunteers who are joining the Raqqa push but are not well trained or equipped. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of internal Pentagon planning.