Mission Creep: U.S. Has 1,000 Troops on the Ground in Syria
Pentagon boosts presence in and around troubled nation despite rejections of escalation
President Trump told columnist Michael Goodwin of the New York Post last week: “We’re not going into Syria. Our policy hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.”
But the U.S. is already in Syria.
The Pentagon has roughly 1,000 boots on the ground in Syria advising rebel forces and fighting the Islamic State — maybe more.
Exact figures are not available because, last month, the Pentagon said it would no longer release country-specific numbers of U.S. troops, and in an email to LifeZette last week, would only say that there are 80,000 troops deployed in the countries that fall under Central Command, which includes Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arabian Peninsula in addition to Iraq, Syria and Jordan.
A comprehensive look at public statements from U.S. officials and news reports since 2012 suggests the number of U.S. troops in Syria has shot up from 100 a year ago to as many as 1,000 today, with 1,000-2,500 more possibly on their way.
And this doesn’t count the number of soldiers employed by private companies, under contract with the Department of Defense, to perform many of the same tasks in Syria as U.S. military personnel.
U.S. involvement in Syria began more than 10 years ago, and it began quietly, State Department emails released by WikiLeaks in in 2010 and 2011 show.
One email showed that the U.S. has been funding groups trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2006, more than four years before the start of the war in Syria. Another, sent Dec. 13, 2006, from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, showed that the U.S. was looking for “opportunities” to weaken Assad.
The war in Syria began with protests in the city of Dara’a, about eight miles from the Jordan border, in March 2011, with protests spreading to Damascus and other cities and becoming an insurgency, and then all-out war.
Since the war broke out and ISIS emerged as a threat to regional stability, the U.S. military presence in Syria has remained small, but has grown, incrementally.
June 21, 2012
The New York Times reports that a “small number of CIA officers” are helping opposition fighters in Turkey get arms, paid for by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, for use in Syria.
June 13, 2013
The Times reports that the U.S., for the first time, is directly supplying the rebels in Syria with “small arms and ammunition.”
September 3, 2013
The London Telegraph reports that President Barack Obama told U.S. senators, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, that the CIA had trained its first 50-man rebel force and sent it into Syria. The rebels are thought to have been trained in Jordan, the Telegraph says.
September 10, 2014
President Obama announces that the U.S. will begin airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
September 18, 2014
Congress approves President Obama’s plan to train and arm Syrian rebels. The Senate vote was 78-22. Just 10 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted “no.”
October 30, 2015
Fifty U.S. Special Operations forces are sent to Northern Syria. This is the first time there have been “boots on the ground” in Syria.
December 1, 2015
An unknown number of additional Special Operations forces are being sent to Syria and Iraq, Defense Secretary Ash Carter tells Congress.
April 25, 2016
An additional 250 Special Operations forces are being sent to Syria, President Obama announces.
December 10, 2016
An additional 200 Special Operations forces are being sent to Syria, Sec. Carter says.
March 8, 2017
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson tells a House committee that 2,500 ground combat troops are being sent to Kuwait to be used for military operations in Iraq and Syria. It is the first time conventional forces are made available to be sent to Syria.
March 9, 2017
An additional 400 troops, including Marines and Army Rangers, are being sent to Syria, the Times reports.
The most recent batch of 2,500 troops sent to Kuwait for possible deployments in Iraq and Syria would represent the first round of conventional forces being sent to Syria. They will reportedly include the 82 Airborne’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which is based in Fort Bragg, N.C.
The head of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told Congress on March 9 that conventional U.S. forces will be needed to stabilize the region once ISIS fighters are defeated in Raqqa, Syria — and to prevent their return.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said it “remains to be seen” if more troops will be needed in Syria, saying he doubts the U.S will have to send more. But it’s not known whether some or all of the 2,500 troops sent to Kuwait have already been deployed to Syria.
In addition to more U.S. troops in Syria, the Pentagon appears to be gathering additional forces near the country. Several publications reported that a large “ro-ro” ship – short for “roll-on, roll-off” arrived at the port of Aqaba in southern Jordan on April 7, the same day that 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles struck a Syrian airbase, and that it remained there for 40 hours, unloading.
The ship, called the “Liberty Passion,” is 656 feet long and capable of carrying 250 army tanks. It had departed from Livorno, Italy, and made stops in Romania and at Port Said, Egypt, before arriving in Jordan.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has launched 7,800 airstrikes in Syria, almost exclusively on ISIS targets, since September of 2014, according to ABC News reporting.