US Defense Minister Ashton Carter announces 200 more troops for Syria

(December 10)Manama - US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that another 200 troops will go to Syria in order to aid an offensive by Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), to free the city of Raqqa a stronghold of the Islamic State(IS) in Syria.

Speaking in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, Carter said: "I can tell you today that the United States will deploy approximately 200 additional US forces in Syria." There already are 300 US special forces operating in Syria backing the SDF troops. The offensive began in recent weeks and is taking place at the same time as an offensive against the IS-held city of Mosul in Syria. These two cities are the last two urban centers held by the IS after the Libyan city of Sirte fell to Libyan forces just recently. Their other Libyan stronghold of Derna was won by rival Islamist groups earlier this year. Carter said that bomb disposal experts, and trainers, will be included with the special forces. The IS have used car bombs, booby traps, and mines as well as snipers as they have put up fierce resistance when attacked in what they term is their caliphate. The US has used extensive airstrikes to help the advancing SDF forces. Carter said: “By combining our capabilities with those of our local partners, we’ve been squeezing Isis by applying simultaneous pressure from all sides and across domains, through a series of deliberate actions to continue to build momentum."
Carter criticized other Middle East partners for not adding more military support for the fight against the IS while themselves complaining about US efforts: “I would ask you to imagine what US military and defence leaders think when they have to listen to complaints sometimes that we should do more, when it’s plain to see that all too often, the ones complaining aren’t doing enough themselves.” He said it was reasonable that the US should expect regional powers opposed to the IS and other extremists in the Middle East to do more to help fight them. Carter said of the additional troops that they would "continue organizing, training, equipping and otherwise enabling capable, motivated local forces".
Carter also said that if Sunni regional powers were concerned about Iran's influence in the region they needed to become more involved in the area: “The fact is, if countries in the region are worried about Iran’s destabilising 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.” Saudi Arabia has been busy intervening in the Yemen civil war on behalf of the former government, which until recently was in exile in Saudi Arabia, with disastrous humanitarian results. The opposition Houthi rebels are supported by Iran. Carter said that President Obama had approved sending the extra troops.
Carter said that Russian intervention in the Syrian war had "only inflamed the civil war and prolonged suffering". Russia's intervention not only appears to have saved the Assad regime but to have enabled it to achieve a major victory in Aleppo which may have turned the tide against the rebels supported by the US and many Arab states.
The US support for the Kurdish fighters is complicated by the fact that even though the US considers them to be the most effective partners of the US, they are viewed by Turkey, a US ally, as a terrorist threat. The US has slowly been increasing the number of its troops both in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Troops have not had a direct combat role. This could result in casualties and a negative political reaction within the US. Their main role is as advisors to Sunni fighters and Kurdish militia.
Carter noted that US strategy was to divide IS territory and taking out its leadership:"Leaders of the terrorist group can no longer travel between Raqqa and Mosul without the risk of either being struck from the air or hunted down by the coalition’s Expeditionary Targeting Force. In fact, since we began accelerating our campaign last year, we’ve killed the majority of ISIL’s most senior leaders.”
US Secretary of State, John Kerry is in Paris meeting with EU and Arab foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Syria. He is due to hold talks with Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister. Kerry said he was tired of trying to negotiate with the Russians. Kerry complained:“I know people are tired of these meetings. I’m tired of these meetings. And people are sort of: ‘Oh, another meeting. OK. This one will end the same way the other one did.’ I get it, folks... But what am I supposed to do? Go home and have a nice weekend in Massachusetts while people are dying? Sit there in Washington and do nothing? That’s not the way you do business.”
With the Assad regime appearing near victory in Aleppo, negotiations may be difficult. The UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said that even if Assad takes all of Aleppo the war will not end. He said a serious discussion about the political future of Syria was the only way to peace.


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