JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The United States is ramping up involvement in Syria, and for the first time, it will deploy troops to the region. In a dramatic policy shift, the White House announced plans to put boots on the ground in northern Syria.
Those forces will "assist and advise" Kurdish and Arab forces fighting ISIS. A senior administration official said "fewer than 50" special operations forces will be sent to Syria, insisting that this is not a step toward war.
For some watchers, it's only 50 special-forces members to assist and advise. For others, this change puts American lives in danger and could put the United States in clear opposition to Russia in that region.
Retired four-star admiral Bob Natter said there are key questions following the White House announcement concerning troops in Syria. The one-time commander of the U.S. Atlantic fleet and Fleet Forces Command, believes the fighting we already see in the region and the announced U.S. involvement requires long-range thinking.
"When do we declare that we've accomplished what we set out to do with these 50 boots on the ground?" Natter said. "Then, what is the fallback position with respect to search and rescue, with respect to close air support, with respect to our allies and potential adversaries?"
"The president has been quite clear that there is no military solution to the problems that are plaguing Iraq and Syria," said Josh Earnest, White House Secretary. "There is a diplomatic one."
In a region that is already rocked by violence seemingly daily, one of the concerns of military leaders News4Jax spoke with Friday is Russia.
Critics have accused Russia of entering Syria solely to help keep embattled President Bashar Al-Assad in power. The U.S. has bombed targets in Syria for more than a year, and efforts to recruit and train moderate rebels have largely failed.
"They started off saying we're all there about ISIL, and what we saw actually happening there on the ground was very, very different," said Gen. Philip Breedlove, U.S. European Command, referring to Russians. "And so their approach is beginning to clarify now. They're being pretty forward about the fact that they're bombing the moderate Syrian opposition and other groups in the northern area."
"Sure, there's a potential for conflict whenever you have other controlled forces on the ground that are not closely coordinated, whether they have different objectives or not," Natter said. "Again, those kinds of questions should have some answers to them before the decision is made to commit Americans on the ground, and the potential for having them come back in body bags."