U.S. To Send 250 Additional Personnel To Syria

Apr 25, 2016
Originally published on April 25, 2016 6:13 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama says he's sending more U.S. Troops into Syria. Two-Hundred-Fifty members of Special Forces units will join troops already there, assisting in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The president made that announcement in Germany, and NPR's Scott Horsley was listening in from here. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve, good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Good to have you here. What will these additional troops be doing?

HORSLEY: Steve, these are Special Operations forces. The U.S. Already has about 50 on the ground in Syria. And Obama says the 50 who were there have proven effective in enhancing the ability of local Kurdish and Arab fighters to go after ISIS - Or ISIL, as the President calls the group. So Obama has decided to send more Special Operators. The numbers here are still relatively small, but 250 does represent a sixfold increase.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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. They continue to drive ISIL back.

HORSLEY: Obama is also asking European partners to up their contributions to the counter-ISIS coalition. In some cases, that might mean carrying out additional airstrikes. It also means more intelligence sharing within Europe to guard against the kind of ISIS-style terror attacks we have seen in Paris and Brussels.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Scott, I'm curious how the president is being received. You know, he's ruffled some feathers ahead of this trip. He's referred to U.S. Allies in the region as free-riders in a magazine interview. What did he say about that today?

HORSLEY: Well, he repeated that criticism today, albeit in more diplomatic language. He said that Europe has, at times, been complacent about its own defense, too willing to rely on the United States and its military forces for protection. The president once again urged all the countries in NATO to live up to their commitment to spend 2 percent of their economies on defense.

And this is part of what's really broader message from President Obama, that whether it's fighting ISIS or trying to boost the global economy, no country - The U.S., Germany - No country can do it on their own. They have to work together. This is a message that comes at what he calls a defining moment in Europe, when there's a lot of division and a lot of suspicion among the countries there. He's urging them not to pull apart but to pull together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: I have come here today, to the heart of Europe, to say that the United States and the entire world needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe.

HORSLEY: The president's really amplifying the argument he made last week in the U.K., where he urged Britons not to sever their ties with the European Union. And just as he bucked up Prime Minister David Cameron in London, he's sort of helping to buck up Chancellor Merkel in Germany.

She's taken a lot of heat for her support of the Syrian refugees. But Obama told a news conference yesterday that Merkel is on the right side of history.

INSKEEP: OK, Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.