The new deployment will increase U.S. forces in Syria to about
300. The decision, announced by Obama in Germany at the end of a
six-day foreign tour, appears reflects growing confidence in the
ability of U.S.-backed forces to claw back territory from the
hardline Sunni Islamist group.
"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 in a speech at a trade fair in the
northern city of Hanover, the last stop on a trip that has taken him
to Saudi Arabia and Britain.
"They're not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they
will be essential in providing the training and assisting local
forces as they continue to drive ISIL back," he added.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting in the audience, Obama
also urged Europe and NATO allies to do more in the fight against
Islamic State, with is also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The group controls the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria
and a swathe of territory in between, and has proven a potent threat
abroad, claiming responsibility for major attacks in Paris in
November and Brussels in March.
"Even as European countries make important contributions against
ISIL, Europe, including NATO, can still do more," Obama said ahead
of talks later in the day with Merkel and the leaders of Britain,
France and Italy.
"In Syria and Iraq we need more nations contributing to their
campaign. We need more nations contributing trainers to help build
up local forces in Iraq. We need more nations to contribute economic
assistance to Iraq so it can stabilize liberated areas and break the
cycle of violent extremism so that ISIL cannot come back," he said.
Obama pledged to wind down wars in the Middle East when he was first
elected in 2008. But in the latter part of his presidency he has
found it necessary to keep or add troops to help with conflicts in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, where a five-year civil war has killed
at least 250,000 people.
Last year he sent 50 U.S. special operations forces to Syria in what
U.S. officials described as a "counterterrorism" mission rather than
an effort to tip the scales in the war.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, briefing reporters
before Obama spoke, said U.S. forces "are not being sent there on a
[to top of second column]
In Iraq, Islamic State 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 from the strategic city of
Palmyra by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
The Pentagon announced last week that about 200 more troops would be
deployed to Iraq, mainly to advise Iraqi troops fighting Islamic
Since U.S.-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, U.S.
officials told Reuters in early April.
Syria was a major theme in Sunday talks between Obama and Merkel.
The German leader had just returned from a trip to Turkey to see
refugee camps along the border.
The European Union has grappled with the flood of about a million
migrants last year, most fleeing the Syria crisis. Merkel pushed her
EU partners to accept refugees, and recently hammered out a deal
with Turkey to stop the migrant flow.
After meeting with Merkel for about 90 minutes, Obama told reporters
on Sunday that he was "deeply concerned" about a surge in violence
in Syria, where government forces have stepped up bombing of
rebel-held areas around the strategic city of Aleppo.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Andreas Rinke in Hanover, Jeff
Mason and Kevin Drawbaugh in Washington, Michelle Martin in Berlin;
writing by Noah Barkin; editing by Peter Graff)
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