WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials have concluded that hundreds more trainers, advisers and commandos from the United States and its allies will need to be sent to Iraq and Syria in the coming months as the campaign to isolate the Islamic State intensifies.
In meetings with President Barack Obama's national security team in recent weeks, military officials have told the White House that they believe they have made significant progress in the fight against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, administration officials told the New York Times. But to deal a lasting blow to the extremist Sunni militancy, they believe, additional forces will be needed to work with Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian opposition fighters on the ground in the two countries.
In the past, the Pentagon's requests for additional troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been met with skepticism by Obama, and his aides have said he has resented what he has regarded as efforts to pressure him. But the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has alarmed the White House, and a senior administration official told the newspaper Thursday that the president was willing to consider raising the stakes.
The United States already has about 3,700 troops in Iraq, counting a handful of Special Operations forces in Syria. One official said he did not anticipate that number increasing to more than 4,500 over time, and even that increase, the official told the newspaper, could come incrementally, much as the deployment of the 3,700 U.S. troops occurred over a year and a half. The White House and the Pentagon have taken pains to avoid describing the deployments as combat troops, instead calling them special operators, trainers and advisers.
The Pentagon's desire to expand the military presence on the ground comes as the U.S. public remains skeptical of the United States' getting more deeply involved in the Middle East. Polls have shown that Americans are not convinced the Obama administration has a plan to defeat the Islamic State, which has maintained control of nearly all the large cities it took over in 2014.