Obama announces 250 more US troops to fight IS in Syria

#SyriaWar

US president says special forces soldiers will help train and assist local forces to drive back militant group

The deployment brings to 300 the number of US soldiers in Syria (AFP)
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Monday 25 April 2016 12:18 UTC
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US President Barack Obama announced on Monday that 250 special forces soldiers are to be sent to Syria to help rebels fighting the Islamic State group.

In a speech in Germany, Obama called the group the "the most urgent threat" to nations belonging to the Nato defence organisation.

"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 ISIL out of key areas," he said.

"So, given the success, I have approved the deployment of up to 250 additional US personnel in Syria, including special forces, to keep up this momentum," added Obama, speaking in the northern city of Hanover.

"They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training, in assisting local forces as they continue to drive ISIL back.

"These terrorists will learn the same lessons that others before them have, which is: your hatred is no match for our nations, united in defence of our way of life."

The new deployment will bolster the 50 US commandos already in northern Syria who are mandated to advise and assist some Syrian opposition forces. 

The president announced the new deployment after a meeting with Nato partners in Hanover. 

On Sunday, Obama pressed for parties to the Syrian conflict to return the negotiating table and "reinstate" a faltering internationally brokered ceasefire that came into force on Tuesday. 

"I spoke to [Russian] President Vladimir Putin early last week to try to make sure that we could reinstate the cessation of hostilities," Obama told a news conference in Germany.

That was the clearest indication yet that the White House believes the increasingly troubled ceasefire has disintegrated as government and rebel bombardments claimed 26 lives on Sunday. 

The White House has argued that the ceasefire, while imperfect, is worth pursuing and is the only way out of the brutal more than five-year war. But its stance is bringing Washington and its allies into ever more conflict with rebel groups on the ground, which continue to be on the receiving end of government attacks.

Pressure on Obama is increasing in the US, which in is the throes of a fiercely fought presidential election race, and from European allies who want to halt a massive influx of refugees.

Many of Obama's critics have called for a safe zone to be established, something that could bring Western militaries into direct conflict with Russian and Syrian forces already in the area.

Obama insisted that establishing a safe zone "is not a matter of an ideological objection on my part".

"As a practical matter, sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us essentially being willing to militarily take over a big chunk of that country."

Obama has come under criticism for his handling of Syria's war, with opponents saying he could have done more to stem the bloodshed.

But the US president - who came to power vowing to withdraw US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan - has stood fast in his opposition to plunging the United States into another ground war in the Muslim world.