Jordan (GPA) – The top US commander for operations in the Middle East has apparently told reporters that more American troops may be needed in Syria for “maintaining momentum” in the fight against the Islamic State.
General Joseph L. Votel, head of CENTCOM, and therefore head of all active US military operations has said that the US government should consider putting more troops in Syria in an statement to reporters with CBS news.
Votel told reporters that he is “very concerned about maintaining momentum.” Votel said his proposal was due to concerns that local forces “don’t have as good mobility, they don’t have as much firepower,” and this is why the US may “have to be prepared to fill in some of those gaps for them.” Despite the fact that this may prove unpopular, Votel said that it is “an option” to “take on a larger burden ourselves.”
Votel maintained that new deployments would still function as a continuation of the Obama policy of supporting local anti-ISIS forces and not take over the operations. It’s likely that an expansion of troops under these conditions would go to the front in the battle for the Islamic State capital of Raqqa.
Votel also gave the specific numbers of how many troops were involved in the fighting in the battle of Mosul in Iraq, saying that around 450 US advisers were on the front lines assisting in taking the former IS stronghold. It is unclear whether this deployment would be added to or if Votel only intends to add to the 500 US advisers currently deployed in Syria.
These statements comes only a few days after Pentagon officials told CNN that “It’s possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time.” If this idea were to come to fruition, it would be going well beyond just the deployment of advisers and special forces to call in airstrikes; possibly making this an official front in the ‘War on Terror.’
Although the US likely doesn’t have the appetite for another ground war in the Middle East, this is part of the possibilities laid out by President Trump last year when he said “20,000-30,000” US troops may be needed to eliminate IS. Following his inauguration, Trump gave his Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to draft a “preliminary plan” to take out the terror organization, and this may just be the administration publicly testing out the ideas that could have come from this plan as the 30 days are almost up.
There is likely to be even more confusion now that Trump is weighing his options for exactly who the “local forces” should be comprised of. Despite carrying out Obama’s last minute plans for arming the Kurdish YPG, Trump also seems to be repairing relations with Turkey. Should he follow the recent advice of Turkish president Recep Erdogan, the US support would be pulled from the Kurds and an entirely new force would have to be assembled to include rebels approved by Ankara.
Add all of this to Trump’s revival of the possibility of ‘safe zones’ in Syria, funded by the same Gulf monarchies who fund terrorists in the country and it seems the possibility of an even larger war in Syria is growing.
One things for sure, Trump actually is expanding his options following the ‘failures’ of several years of the Obama strategy for Syria. The problem is that nobody ever said the other options – besides the US staying out of Syria; which isn’t discussed at all – were actually good ones.
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James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.