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Top U.S. Commander Downplays Possibility Of Big Troop Hike In Iraq, Syria
Updated March 2, 2017 7:35 AM
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Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis shakes hands with U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Commander, during Mattis' inaugural visit to Baghdad, Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on Feb. 20. (Sgt. Joshua Wooten/U.S. Army)

(WASHINGTON DC) - The top United States commander overseeing the counter-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria downplayed the chances Wednesday of the U.S. deploying a large number of troops to the region, as President Donald Trump weighs routes to speed up the fight.

"I don't foresee us bringing in large numbers of coalition troops, mainly because what we're doing is, in fact, working," Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference from Baghdad.

"But in the event that we bring in any additional troops, we'll work that with our local partners, both here in Iraq and Syria, to make sure that they understand the reasons why we're doing that and to get their buy-in of that."

Loree Lewis, of Talk Media News reports, the U.S. mission strategy is to operate by, with and through local partners. In this strategy the United States offers the resources of the U.S. military - including airpower, intelligence, training and arms - while locals carry out the front-line fighting.

Townsend said he has submitted his recommendations up the chain of command, but declined to give any details on what they might be. Defense Secretary James Mattis submitted a "preliminary draft" of a "comprehensive strategy" to defeat ISIS to the White House Monday.

There are nearly 4,935 U.S. troops in Iraq working with the government, and among them some 450 conventional forces and an undisclosed number of special operators are embedded with Iraqi security forces and Iraq's counter terrorism service for the assault on Mosul. In Syria, fewer than 500 U.S. troops are working with local rebel groups on the ground but not the government under President Bashar al-Assad.

Under consideration was reportedly an option to send additional U.S. troops into Syria to accelerate the assault on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria.

Within Syria, the U.S. works with a cohort of forces called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is made up about 60 percent Arabs and 40 percent Kurds. The Kurdish group within the SDF, the YPG, is considered the most reliable fighting force on the ground in Syria by U.S. officials. Turkey, an ally, however regards the YPG (People's Protection Units) as affiliated with another Kurdish group that has fought a three decade on-and-off-again insurgency inside it's borders, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).

Townsend said Wednesday that the Kurds will be part of the assault on Raqqa. He said that he has "seen absolutely zero evidence that they have been a threat to or supported attacks on Turkey from Northern Syria over the last two years," but rather witnessed an expressed desire by the YPG to "have a good working relationship with Turkey."

"There are going to be Kurds assaulting Raqqa for sure. The number, the size of them, and how many Kurdish units are participating in that, I can't really say right now," said Townsend. "... They're Syrians, that's who's going to Raqqa... And, when Raqqa's liberated, whatever force it is, we're all very focused on turning it over to local control."

He said that should the SDF lead the assault on Raqqa, the plan for which is still being formulated, it's evident that the group will need additional weapons and equipment.

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