The US is to send an additional 250 special forces troops to Syria to help in the battle against Isis - the largest expansion in ground forces since the civil war there started five years ago.
Speaking in Germany, President Barack Obama said the new forces would being the number of US troops in Syria to around 300. The Associated Press said that the decision, announced at the end of a six-day foreign tour, appears to reflect growing confidence in the ability of US-backed forces to claw back territory from the Islamist fighters.
“Given the success, I've approved the deployment of up to 250 additional US personnel in Syria, including special forces to keep up this momentum,” Mr Obama said in a speech at a trade fair in the northern city of Hanover, the last stop on a trip that has taken him to Saudi Arabia and Britain.
“They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces as they continue to drive Isis back.”
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting in the audience, Mr Obama also urged Europe and Nato allies to do more in the fight against Isis.
The group controls the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria and a swathe of territory in between, and has proven a potent threat abroad, claiming responsibility for major attacks in Paris in November and Brussels in March.
“Even as European countries make important contributions against [Isis], Europe, including Nato, can still do more,” he said, said ahead of talks later in the day with Ms Merkel and the leaders of Britain, France and Italy.
“In Syria and Iraq we need more nations contributing to their campaign. We need more nations contributing trainers to help build up local forces in Iraq. We need more nations to contribute economic assistance to Iraq so it can stabilise liberated areas and break the cycle of violent extremism so that Isis come back.”
Mr Obama pledged to wind down wars in the Middle East when he was first elected in 2008. But in the latter part of his presidency he has found it necessary to keep or add troops to help with conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, where a five-year civil war has killed at least 250,000 people.
Last year he sent 50 US special operations forces to Syria in what US officials described as a “counterterrorism” mission rather than an effort to tip the scales in the war.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, briefing reporters before Obama spoke, said US forces “are not being sent there on a combat mission”.
In Iraq, Isis has been pulling back since December when it lost Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar. In Syria, the jihadist fighters have been pushed from the strategic city of Palmyra by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
The Pentagon announced last week that about 200 more troops would be deployed to Iraq, mainly to advise Iraqi troops fighting Isis.
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