With Syria Deployment, Obama Crosses Own Redline

With Syria Deployment, Obama Crosses Own RedlineWith Syria Deployment, Obama Crosses Own Redline

US President Barack Obama said last week the planned deployment of dozens of US special forces to Syria to advise opposition forces fighting Islamic State militants did not break his promise not to put “boots on the ground” in the Syrian conflict.

“Keep in mind that we have run special ops already and really this is just an extension of what we are continuing to do,” Obama said in an interview on “NBC Nightly News” in his first public comments on the deployment since it was announced on Friday, according to Reuters.

“We are not putting US troops on the front lines fighting firefights with ISIL,” Obama said, using another acronym for IS militant group. “I have been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting like we did in Iraq with battalions and occupations. That doesn’t solve the problem.”

In announcing the measure, the White House said the troops would be on a mission to “train, advise and assist” and would number fewer than 50.

The announcement incited various reactions, many of which consider that as Obama breaking his promise to pull back US troops from the Middle East. In one of the latest cases, Julie Pace has analyzed the issue in AP.

Even as President Obama sent US troops back to Iraq and ordered the military to stay in Afghanistan, he insisted Syria would remain off limits for American ground forces. Now the president has crossed his own redline.

His deployment into northern Syria to assist in the fight against IS is the kind of incremental move that has defined Obama’s approach to the Middle East in his second term.

While the US military footprint in the region grows, each step is taken on a small scale so as to reassure the public that Obama is not plunging the country into another large, open-ended conflict.

The strategy may help ease Americans back into the realities of war, but regional experts as well as some of Obama’s political allies say his slow ramp-up may be insufficient in defeating the fast-moving militants.

“Deploying a handful of US special operations forces to Syria will not change this situation significantly,” Frederic Hof, Obama’s former Syria special adviser, said of Friday’s announcement. “It is a band-aid of sorts.”

The democrat senator Brian Schatz said the latest escalation “is unlikely to succeed in achieving our objective of defeating IS and instead threatens to embroil the United States in Syria’s civil war.”

The military campaign against IS is nowhere near the size and scope of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has repeatedly used the costly and unpopular Iraq war in particular as an example of what he has tried to avoid in the region.

But the significance of Friday’s announcement was more about the location of the deployment, not the number of troops. It marks the first time the US has openly sent forces into Syria, expanding the geographic reach of Obama’s military efforts in the Middle East.

For years, the president has cast the chaos in Syria as exactly the type of situation he was elected to keep the US military out of. Washington has no partners in the Syrian government and few good options among opposition leaders. There is no ground force that the US can quickly train.

But the crisis has become unavoidable for Obama, particularly since the IS grew out of the chaos and crossed the border into Iraq. What the president could once cast as a civil war that needed to be solved by Syrians has threatened to upend the whole region.

Obama’s first move was to deploy a few hundred US troops to Iraq to train and assist local forces in the fight against IS. It marked a return to Iraq for the US military after the 2011 withdrawal, which was a fulfillment of Obama’s campaign promise to end the war he inherited from George W. Bush.

But over the past year, the number of US troops in Iraq has expanded to about 3,300. In another escalation, the US also began launching airstrikes against IS in both Iraq and Syria.

Despite killing as many as 12,000 militants, the bombing campaign has not significantly weakened IS’s capacity to hold territory, and the group’s ranks have been replenished by foreign fighters and others.

Obama had hoped the strikes in Syria would be complimented by a ground force trained by Americans elsewhere in the region. But the train-and-equip program failed spectacularly and the president abandoned it earlier this fall. The new US deployment into Syria essentially replaces that effort.

“War has a harsh reality in that in order to have an effect you have to be present,” said Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy flight officer and the director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security.

The White House put no timetable on how long the American forces would stay in Syria, though Obama has previously said he expects the campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria to last beyond his presidency.

The escalation of the Pentagon’s campaign against IS follows Obama’s announcement two weeks ago that he was reversing course and keeping American troops in Afghanistan beyond next year.

That means the president who inherited two military conflicts will likely hand his successor three.