Pentagon considers deployment of US ground forces inside Syria for first time
The US Defense Department is considering the deployment of conventional ground forces in northern Syria to fight the Islamic State, according to officials who have spoken to CNN.
“It’s possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time,” one defense official said, although he emphasized that the decision must be made by Donald Trump, who ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to present a proposal by the end of February to combat ISIS.
Since autumn 2015, most of the US military effort inside Syria has been dedicated to support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including airstrikes against ISIS targets and the provision of special forces and weapons.
The SDF has pushed back the Islamic State in northeastern Syria, crossing the Euphrates River to advance as far as the city of Manbij in Aleppo Province. However, the offensive has spent months outside Raqqa, the Islamic State’s central position in Syria.
The offensive faces political as well as military issues. Turkey is vehemently opposed to the Kurdish militia YPG, the leading group in the SDF, believing that it is part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
The officials who spoke to CNN said the idea of deploying ground troops is still not a formal proposal. The exact mission has also not been defined, and an official said other options are alsso on the table, including increased cooperation with the Russian military.
Assad Supports Trump’s “Muslim Ban”
President Assad has supported Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and visa holders entering the US.
Assad said in an interview with Europe 1 and France’s TF1, recorded Tuesday and broadcast Thursday:
It’s against the terrorists that would infiltrate some of the immigrants to the West. And that happened. It happened in Europe, mainly in Germany….
I think the aim of Trump is to prevent those people from coming….[It is] not against the Syrian people.
Trump’s 90-day ban on visa holders from seven mainly-Muslim countries, indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and 120-day ban on refugees from the other six countries was suspended by a US Circuit Court early this month.
Report: Asaad Regime’s Recent Chlorine Attacks Near Damascus
The geolocation and verification site Bellingcat investigates claims of recent chemical attacks by the regime near Damascus.
Bellingcat reviews video and photographs, and photographs of attacks on al-Marj on January 30, injuring 11 people — three critically — and on Erbin on February 9, killing one and injuring three.
The report concludes:
It appears that Syrian government forces attacked Al Marj and Erbin, which are located in Eastern Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus, with a poison gas that was identified as chlorine by local medical workers. Syrian government forces have been trying to advance in Erbin and have reportedly conducted airstrikes before using chemical weapons when their advance failed against the Failaq Al Rahman Brigade.
It also appears from the first incident in Al Marj that the Syrian government is using an Iranian rocket manufactured in 2016. This is strong evidence that Iran is still arming the Syrian government during the conflict, directly or indirectly, despite sanctions on Iran to prevent this. This is also a strong evidence that the Syrian government is still using chemical weapons (chlorine), even after the OPCW/UN mission in Syria which ended in early 2015.
Turkish Military Says Al-Bab “Liberated” — But Locals Disagree
Turkey’s military has declared the full “liberation” of the city of al-Bab, the last major ISIS position in Aleppo Province, by a Turkish-rebel offensive.
The Chief of General Staff, General Hulusi Akar, reportedly said on Wednesday that operations had been completed and Turkish troops were working to clear mines and explosives.
However, local sources tell a different story.
A rebel spokesman said the offensive still only holds about 40% of al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo city, after advancing over the weekend.
Islamic State fighters are “still dug-in inside al-Bab”, said Haithem Hamou, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army faction al-Jabha a-Shamiyah, and “have not been able to advance into the city center”. He added that fighting has “never paused” over the past week.
An activist described “slow progress” by Turkish-rebel forces.
The descriptions not only challenges the Turkish military but also Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who have insisted this week that al-Bab was “largely taken under control” and that Islamic State fighters were “in the process of entirely leaving”.
The Turkish-rebel offensive was launched in early December but made little progress until the past week.
TOP PHOTO: US special forces with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria, May 2016