US: The US administration is considering a plan to greatly increase the number of American special operations forces deployed to Syria as it looks to accelerate recent gains against Islamic State, according to US officials.
One official said the plan would entail a US special operations contingent many times larger than the around 50 troop’s currently in Syria, where they operate largely as advisors away from the front lines.
The proposal is among the military options being prepared for President Barack Obama, who is also weighing an increase in the number of American troops in Iraq. The plan appears to be the latest sign of growing confidence in the ability of US-backed forces inside Syria and Iraq to claw back territory from the hardline Sunni Islamist group.
Islamic State, also known as IS, controls the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria and is proving a potent threat abroad, claiming credit for major attacks in Paris in November and Brussels in March. But there are mounting indications that the momentum in Iraq and Syria has shifted against Islamic State.
US officials say IS is losing a battle to forces arrayed against it from many sides in the vast region it controls. In Iraq, the group has been pulling back since December when it lost Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. In Syria, the jihadist fighters have been pushed out of the strategic city of Palmyra by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
Since US-backed forces recaptured the strategic Syrian town of al-Shadadi in late February, a growing number of Arab fighters in Syria have offered to join the fight against the group, the US officials said.
US forces have also had increased success in eliminating IS leaders. Air strikes in recent weeks killed a senior official called Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, and an Islamic State commander described as the group's “minister of war” - Abu Omar al-Shishani, or Omar the Chechen. The US announced last December that it was deploying a new force of special operations troops to Iraq to conduct raids against Islamic State there and in neighbouring Syria. That followed its announcement in October that dozens of US Special Forces would be deployed in Syria, the first US ground troops to be stationed there.
The additional US forces in Syria would be primarily assigned to establishing sites where they would train Arab tribesmen who have been volunteering to fight IS. The tribesmen eventually would be provided with weapons, paving the way for an offensive against the de facto IS capital of Raqqa under US air cover. The dozens of US special operations forces now in Syria are working closely with a collection of Syrian Arab groups within an alliance that is still dominated by Kurdish forces. The US has been supplying Arabs in the thousands-strong alliance with ammunition since October, Foreign media reports.