President Obama is sending an additional 250 military personnel to Syria to aid in the fight against ISIS, he announced in Germany Monday.
“I’ve decided to increase U.S. support for local forces fighting [ISIS] in Syria,” Obama said during a speech advocating European unity. “A small number of American special operations forces are already on the ground in Syria and their expertise has been critical as local forces have driven [ISIS] out of key areas,” he continued.
“Given the success, I’ve approved the deployment of up to 250 additional U.S. personnel in Syria, including special forces, to keep up this momentum,” Obama said.
This is a continued reversal from his previously stated ISIS policy.
The U.S. strategy for fighting ISIS “won’t involve American troops fighting on foreign soil,” Obama initially promised the American people in 2014. However, at the end of 2015 it was revealed that Obama had indeed sent 50 U.S. personnel to Syria to help in the fight against ISIS.
“You know, when I said, ‘no boots on the ground,'” Obama said in December 2015, “I think the American people understood [that to mean] generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert.”
Most Americans, however, likely took Obama’s promise of “no boots on the ground” to mean just that, and some will no doubt see this announcement as just another one of Obama’s broken promises.
The 250 new military personnel will join 50 service members who are already active in Syria, and will include special operations forces and their support staff tasked with training and assisting local anti-ISIS forces.
The new deployment will bring the number of U.S. personnel on the ground combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria to just over 4,000 — over four times as many as France, which has the second highest number of boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
The Obama administration has been struggling to convince Sunni Arab countries in the region to contribute to the fight against ISIS. Like putting a Band-Aid over a cut that needs stitches, Obama’s 250 additional military advisers will be but a stopgap measure in the efforts to destroy ISIS unless real and significant Sunni Arab support can be obtained.
That support has so far proven difficult to secure. A $500 million effort to train and equip 15,000 anti-ISIS Sunni Arab fighters over three years ended in spectacular failure in October 2015 after the government admitted it had produced only a “handful” of fighters.
Some of America’s Arab allies in the region have been hesitant to commit the resources and manpower necessary to defeat ISIS. Saudi Arabia, for example, sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s pro-Iranian regime as a bigger threat than ISIS, while Turkey is so terrified of militant Kurdish nationalism that U.S. officials had to reassure Ankara that the soon-to-be-deployed 250 personnel are not going to be training Kurds, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Of course, Obama may not be concerned about the temporary nature of his most recent solution to defeating ISIS in Syria. In roughly seven months he will leave office, and the utter mess he will leave behind him in the Middle East will be President #45’s problem.
Perhaps he’s hoping these 250 military personnel will be just enough of a solution to carry him through the year.