The Pentagon will consider deploying more special operations troops to fight Islamic State militants if its pilot project in Syria shows signs of progress, a senior Defense official told USA TODAY on Monday.
The Pentagon last month announced that 50 commandos would be sent to northern Syria to advise forces battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS. Sending that initial force amounts to “breaking the seal” on inserting special operations forces in Syria and could lead to further deployments, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about planning. The Pentagon will not comment on whether those commandos have arrived in Syria.
The trigger for sending more special operations forces, the official said, is the ability of local forces to take ground from ISIL in Syria and hold it. Adding more forces on the ground in Syria would represent a significant deepening of the U.S. commitment to the counter-ISIL effort, potentially requiring additional forces to support them. There are about 3,400 American forces in Iraq.
The Pentagon’s counter-ISIL strategy will be the focus of a hearing Tuesday before the House Armed Services Committee; Defense Secretary Ash Carter is scheduled to testify.