President Barack Obama has said the US is not putting its troops on the front lines in Syria to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), despite his decision to deploy special operations troops on the ground.
In his first comments since the deployment was announced on Friday, Obama said it was merely an extension of what the US was already doing.
“Keep in mind that we have run special ops already and really this is just an extension of what we are continuing to do,” Obama said in an interview on NBC Nightly News on Monday.
“We are not putting US troops on the front lines fighting firefights with ISIL,” Obama said.
“I have been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting like we did in Iraq with battalions and occupations. That doesn’t solve the problem.”
Train, advise and assist
In announcing the measure, the White House said the troops would be on a mission to “train, advise and assist” and would number fewer than 50.
The introduction of US forces on the ground marks a shift after more than a year of limiting the Syria mission to air strikes against ISIL.
Before last year, Obama, who has been averse to committing troops to Middle East wars, had ruled out a US presence on the ground in Syria.
In a nationally televised address in September 2013, Obama said: “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”
Over the past year, however, he has emphasised that he would not send US “combat” troops there.
The Obama administration is under pressure to ramp up the US effort against ISIL, particularly after the group captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi in May and following the failure of a US military programme to train and arm thousands of Syrian rebels.
Russia and Iran have increased their military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fight against rebels in the civil war, now in its fourth year.
The UN’s special envoy to Syria on Monday called for the government and the opposition to be involved in the latest attempt to bring political progress on ending the war.
Speaking after a series of meetings with Syrian government members in the capital, Damascus, Staffan de Mistura said that all sides of the conflict should be involved in the process of finding a solution.
De Mistura arrived in Damascus on Sunday, two days after world powers and regional rivals met in Vienna to try to find a solution to the conflict that has left more than 200,000 dead and half of the population displaced.