Monday, March 27, 2017


"Why the Trump administration is sending more troops to Syria" PBS NewsHour 3/23/2017


SUMMARY:  The Pentagon has authorized the deployment of 400 additional troops to Syria in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State militant group.  Judy Woodruff discusses the U.S.'s deepening military involvement and the complexities with former Defense Department official Andrew Exum and Bulent Aliriza of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  United States military involvement in Syria has deepened since President Trump took office.  The Pentagon has authorized the deployment of 400 more troops, some of whom are already there.  Five hundred special operations forces sent by the Obama administration are also on the ground.  War planners reportedly are seeking to send an additional 1,000 American troops to Syria.

Yesterday, in Tabqa, Syria, American forces aided Syrian rebel and Kurdish forces in the taking a strategic dam and road from ISIS.  All this comes on a complex battlefield and under the wary eye of Syria's northern neighbor Turkey.

For more on what's happening now and what may come, I'm joined by Andrew Exum.  He served in the Obama administration until this January as deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East policy.  He's also a former Army Ranger and a contributing editor at The Atlantic.  And Bulent Aliriza, he's the director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  It's a Washington think tank.

And we welcome both of you back to the program.

Andrew Exum, to you first.

How much of a change is what we are seeing right now in Syria from what was going on in the Obama administration?

ANDREW EXUM, Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense:  So, significant in one way.  Significant in terms of the numbers.  It is clear that the Trump administration doesn't have the same reticence that the Obama administration did in terms of putting more boots on the ground, especially conventional troops, as opposed to special operations troops.

Where it is similar is that what we are trying to do, it seems, is replicate the success we have had in Iraq working, by, with and through local forces, so no direct combat themselves, but really enabling local forces to try to win the fight.

It seems what the U.S. military is trying to do is put the same infrastructure on the ground that has proved successful in helping the Iraqi army in Mosul in Syria to help the Syrians successfully take Raqqa.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, if the Trump administration seems to be headed toward 2,000, assuming this next 1,000 contingent gets there, is that where the Obama administration would have eventually gotten, or is that not even clear?

ANDREW EXUM:  So, it's a really good question.

Over the past 18 months, we have steadily ramped up our commitment in terms of resources to both Iraq and Syria, and certainly, as the fight developed in Iraq, we continued to put more troop there, for example, building up the Qayyarah West Airfield in presentation for the fight against Mosul.

So, you could say the Obama administration might have eventually done something similar to this.  We really don't know.  In some ways, this is typical of the ramping up of the strategy so far.

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