What lies behind Obama's decision to increase US forces in Syria?

President Obama announced that he's sending more American troops to Syria. Why? 

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama speaks at the Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial technology trade fair, in Hannover, northern Germany, Monday April 25, 2016. Obama is on a two-day official visit to Germany.

Speaking in Germany on Monday while on a farewell tour of Europe, President Obama announced the deployment of an additional 250 US troops, including special operations personnel, into Syria to keep up the "momentum" against ISIS.

That increases the number of US military personnel in Syria from about 50 to roughly 300.

This announcement may come as a surprise to some after Mr. Obama told the BBC just a few days ago that deploying US ground troops against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) was unnecessary. At that time, instead of international military involvement, Obama underscored the need for internal dialogue between Syrian rebels and the organized opposition, the High Negotiations Committee, that would effectively bypass President Assad's regime.

Obama's decision to deploy additional troops coincides with his arrival in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the creation of "safety zones" in Syria so that refugees could seek asylum without leaving their country, USA Today reported. Obama said he did not have an “ideological objection,” to this effort at curbing refugee emigration, but said that it would be unattainable without a sprawling military presence.

Obama's administration now asserts that the new deployment to Syria is similar to last week's announcement to send a contingent of 200 troops to help with the fight to retake Mosul, Iraq, from ISIS. Most of the additional US troops in Iraq and Syria are special operations troops who strategically advise and assist local forces and officials in the aftermath of ISIS as opposed to launching attacks aimed at dismantling existing ISIS strongholds; what Obama refers to as an attempt at "tightening the squeeze on ISIS."

In contrast, these dual deployments' purpose is to reflect US commitment to a smooth transition once the Islamic State is defeated in Syria.

“One of the things that I learned as president is that we have to make sure that whatever it is that we say were going to do we can deliver and creating a situation in which we could actually protect all the people inside of Syria – the best be for doing that – is to get this political process on track, a transition on track, so that all the parties can safely lay down their arms and create the kind of inclusive government that Syria so desperately needs,” Obama said at the Hannover, Germany, press conference.

The deployment to Syria comes on the heels of the US combat units sent to Mosul last month. US Marines fired illumination rounds to help the Iraqi forces locate ISIS fighters, and also fired artillery rounds in support of Iraqi troops moving forward to retake Mosul, reported the Associated Press

The Washington Post reports that ISIS is being squeezed in both countries and the would-be caliphate has not had a successful military offensive in almost nine months. 

“They don’t fight. They just send car bombs and then run away. And when we surround them, they either surrender or infiltrate themselves among the civilians,” said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Ghani al-Assadi, commander of Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, who is overseeing the latest Iraqi offensive to capture the town of Hit in Anbar province.

“Their morale is shaken. We listen to them on their communications devices. Their leaders are begging them to fight, but they answer that it is a lost cause. They refuse to obey orders and run away.”

With the latest troops being sent, White House argues that it is trying to help lay the groundwork for a governable post-Islamic State-run society before Obama’s exit from office.  

On stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and Germany this week, Obama repeatedly called for more military support, training for local forces, and economic aid to help reconstruct regions in Iraq that have been retaken from Islamic State control but are still vulnerable. Obama appeared to come up short in Riyadh, when he met with Arab allies, the Associated Press reported. 

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.