‘Big question – who 250 US troops in Syria will train’

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech during his visit to Hanover, Germany April 25, 2016. © Kevin Lamarque
The additional Special Forces the US will deploy in Syria are going to carry guns and engage in combat, says former Pentagon analyst Michael Maloof. The mission is potentially to train; but the question is what forces they will train, he adds.

The deployment of up to 250 Special Forces soldiers increases US forces in Syria six-fold and is aimed at helping militia fighters who have clawed back territory from Islamic State militants in a string of victories.

US President Barack Obama has confirmed plans to increase the US troop presence in Syria. He said the additional 250 personnel are intended to be deployed in the country, bringing the total to 300.

RT: The State Department said deploying troops is not the same as putting boots on the ground.  What's the difference then?

Michael Maloof: There is no difference. Boots are on the ground, and [John] Kirby is a former military guy, so he is going to try and make a distinction between actual combat troops of 20,000–30,000 as opposed to Special Forces. You talk to Special Forces guys – they are taking fire, they are boots on the ground, they are in a combat mode. Even Colonel Steve Warren from the Pentagon, who briefs the Pentagon once a week, said as much. So they are in a combat situation, they are boots on the ground. Which you have here is a mission creep and you have an administration, that doesn’t want to admit they would have to go to Congress ultimately to get permission to deal with ISIS. They have refused to that until now.

RT: The State Department says the troops will have an advise-and-assist mission.  Will they stick to their remit, do you think?

MM: They are going to carry guns. They are going to be firing; they are going to be shot at. We’ve heard of people already, who have been killed in Iraq - especially who were advising and insisting - they got involved in the fray and they have been killed. We had to bring back the bodies. So they do engage in combat, they are armed. The mission potentially is to train, but the question is: who are you going to train? What forces are you going to train? You going to train these opposition groups? That is one of the big questions that are lingering here.   

Rather than trying to come up with a definition of boots on the ground, and there are boots on the ground – period. Who are they going to assist? The Kurds? If you assist the Kurds too much – you get Turkey all upset. If you assist Al-Shabaab and all these other groups, who are supportive of ISIS and al-Nusra, then we’re basically back in the position of helping Al-Qaeda once again. Turkey also supports those groups. This is really undefined. I think the administration needs to come very clean on just precisely what they mean by boots on the ground and who they are going to assist. I have seen nothing to indicate, which troops they are going to be assisting.

RT: Do you think Washington will increase its military presence further over time?

MM: Oh yeah, that is inevitable. It will be increased, and this is a slip part of the slippery slope, this is mission creep, and this administration tries to split these hairs. And they don’t want to call a duck a duck at this point. It’s crazy. But they are trying not to show that they are having to ultimately go to Congress to invoke the War Powers Act. And they are going to have boots on the ground. But the question: who will we be assisting?

RT: What implications might the deployment of the troops have for the current security situation?

MM: I think it won’t do all that much… You got to keep in mind, when you have 300 Special Forces guys in there – maybe at least a half of them support personnel, intelligence and logistical support. The actual fighters and the gunslingers are going to be much fewer than that. They are going to probably do some training, but advising, guiding in ordinance for the aircraft, when they are trying to hit ISIS positions if in fact that they are working with opposition groups that are after ISIS as opposed to Syrian forces.

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