U.S. send­ing 200 more sol­diers to join in push for Raqqa in Syria

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Robert Burns

manama, bahrain » Draw­ing the U.S. deeper into the Syria con­flict, De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter an­nounced Satur­day he is send­ing 200 more troops to ac­cel­er­ate the push on the Is­lamic State’s self-de­clared cap­i­tal of Raqqa.

The 200, to in­clude special op­er­a­tions troops, are in ad­di­tion to 300 al­ready au­tho­rized for the ef­fort to re­cruit, or­ga­nize, train and ad­vise lo­cal Syr­ian Arab and Kur­dish forces to fight the ter­ror­ist group. Carter said the ex­panded U.S. in­volve­ment was ap­proved by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama last week.

On his fi­nal tour of the Mideast as Pen­tagon chief, Carter cast the new troop com­mit­ment as ev­i­dence that the U.S. backs its anti-Is­lamic State words with mil­i­tary mus­cle. He of­fered an ex­ten­sive de­fense of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to de­feat the ter­ror­ists, and he aimed sharp jabs at the re­gion’s Arab pow­ers, say­ing they need to stop com­plain­ing of U.S. short­com­ings and do more to pro­tect their own neigh­bor­hoods. “They need to get in the game,” he said. Speak­ing at an in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity con­fer­ence known as the Manama Di­a­logues, Carter also blasted Rus­sia for its role in Syria. He said Moscow had joined the fight­ing with the stated goals of smooth­ing the way for a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion and to com­bat­ting the Is­lamic State group.

“But then it did nei­ther of those things,” he said, “and in­stead has only in­flamed the civil war and pro­longed suf­fer­ing of the Syr­ian peo­ple.”

Carter said U.S. part­ners in the Mid­dle East who are se­ri­ous about fight­ing ex­trem­ism over the long term need to build up their ground and naval forces, special op­er­a­tions forces, and de­fenses against bal­lis­tic mis­siles and cy­berthreats.

“Given the per­sis­tent chal­lenges fac­ing the re­gion — and be­cause the fu­ture is al­ways un­cer­tain — de­vel­op­ing th­ese core ca­pa­bil­i­ties will be ever more cru­cial to your se­cu­rity,” he said. “You ig­nore them at your peril.”

He did not crit­i­cize any Arab coun­try by name, but it is well known that the key U.S. part­ners in the re­gion are led by Saudi Ara­bia. Carter point­edly men­tioned the United Arab Emi­rates as an ex­am­ple of how mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity should be de­vel­oped and used. “The UAE not only ac­quires ef­fec­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties, it puts skin in the game,” he said.

In unusu­ally pointed terms, Carter sug­gested that some Mideast part­ner na­tions are disin­gen­u­ous in their crit­i­cisms of U.S. pol­icy.

“I would ask you to imag­ine what U.S. mil­i­tary and de­fense lead­ers think when they have to lis­ten to com­plaints some­times that we should do more, when it’s plain to see that all too of­ten, the ones com­plain­ing aren’t do­ing enough them­selves,” he said.

He said it is not un­rea­son­able for Wash­ing­ton to ex­pect re­gional pow­ers who op­pose ter­ror­ism in the Mid­dle East to do more to help fight it, “par­tic­u­larly in the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic as­pects of the cam­paign.” Carter said the 200 ex­tra troops go­ing to Syria will help lo­cal forces in their an­tic­i­pated push to re­take Raqqa, the de facto cap­i­tal of the group’s self-styled caliphate, and to deny sanc­tu­ary to the Is­lamic State af­ter Raqqa is cap­tured.

“Th­ese uniquely skilled op­er­a­tors will join the 300 U.S. special op­er­a­tions forces al­ready in Syria, to con­tinue or­ga­niz­ing, train­ing, equip­ping, and oth­er­wise en­abling ca­pa­ble, mo­ti­vated, lo­cal forces to take the fight to (the Is­lamic State),” Carter said. “By com­bin­ing our ca­pa­bil­i­ties with those of our lo­cal part­ners, we’ve been squeez­ing (the Is­lamic State) by ap­ply­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous pres­sure from all sides and across do­mains, through a se­ries of de­lib­er­ate ac­tions to con­tinue to build mo­men­tum.”

The coali­tion of Syr­ian Arab and Kur­dish fight­ers that has been work­ing with U.S. train­ers and ad­vis­ers said Satur­day it will ex­pand op­er­a­tions against the ter­ror­ist group in north­ern Syria.

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