Sunday 25 March 2018

Obama looks at plans to put troops on the ground in Syria

A school girl walks past damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria yesterday
A school girl walks past damaged buildings in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria yesterday

Barney Henderson

The American defence secretary has suggested that the Obama administration may be prepared to put boots on the ground in Syria for the first time to tackle Islamic State (Isil) jihadists.

Ashton Carter said that the US would ramp up attacks with additional air strikes and even direct action on the ground.

"We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against Isil, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," he said.

It is thought US President Barack Obama is considering proposals from the Pentagon to deploy forces in Syria, in what would be a major shift in its policy towards combating Isil. Mr Carter's statement appears to back up comments he made last week following a raid that freed dozens of captives but left an American commando dead in Iraq.


US special operations forces and Kurdish Peshmerga troops stormed an Isil-run prison near Hawijah in northern Iraq, freeing some 70 captives who were facing imminent execution.

Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler became the first American serviceman to die in action in Iraq since 2011 during the raid. Mr Carter said afterwards that he expected "more of this kind of thing".

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr Carter described a changing approach to the fight against Isil, focusing largely on Raqqa, Isil's self-declared capital in Syria, and Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq.

One option reportedly being considered by Mr Obama is small special forces teams of 30-50 men embedded with Syrian rebel or Kurdish groups. The US and its allies carried out 14 air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq on Tuesday near six cities, including Ramadi and Samarra, the statement said.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, it was reported that Russia's air force flew 71 sorties over Syria in the last two days, carrying out 118 strikes on militant targets.

The strikes hit targets in Syria's Idlib, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus provinces, Major-General Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying. Meanwhile, the family of the first Russian soldier confirmed dead in Syria buried their son in a village graveyard yesterday, with his father saying there were no signs on the body to support the official account he had hanged himself.

Russian defence officials say Vadim Kostenko (19) reportedly hanged himself at a base on the Syrian coast on Saturday because of problems in his personal life. His body was handed over to his parents on Tuesday, making him the first confirmed military fatality of Russia's four -week-old bombing campaign.

"There were no marks on his body to suggest that he had hanged himself," Vadim's father, Alexander, said after his son's funeral in southern Russia. "Let's see what the prosecutor says."

The circumstances of the air force technician's death have aroused suspicion in Russia, where Kremlin critics accuse the authorities of hiding the truth of military casualties in other conflicts, especially in Ukraine, where Moscow denies its forces have been fighting.

Irish Independent

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