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U.S. to send military advisers to help fight Islamic State in Syria

The White House on Friday confirmed that the United States will send less than 50 Special Operations troops to northern Syria to act as military advisers and help local forces fight the Islamic State (IS).

"There -- the less than 50 number is accurate. I cannot be more specific than that, primarily for reasons related to Operational Security," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at the daily briefing in response to a question about the U.S. plan widely reported by the U.S. media.

Those U.S. troops "do not have a combat mission" and their major task is to build capacity of local moderate opposition forces fighting the IS militants by offering some training and advising assistance, the spokesman said.

Earnest stressed that despite the plan to deploy U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, the U.S. strategy in fighting the IS in Syria has not changed.

"The first is, you've heard the President (Barack Obama) on many occasions discussed our strategy in Syria. And the fact is, our strategy in Syria hasn't changed," Earnest said. "The core of our military strategy inside of Syria is to build up the capacity of local forces. To take the fight to IS on the ground in their own country."

This will be the first time that U.S. troops are deployed on the ground in Syria, where large swaths of territory have been controlled by the IS.

The U.S. is recently under increased pressure to have bigger involvement in fighting the IS in Syria, especially after Russia's military intervention in the war-torn country to help bolster the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S.-led West has been demanding al-Assad step down to pave the way for a lasting peaceful solution to Syria's four-year civil war, which is complicated by the IS advances. Even with the support of the U.S.-led coalition air strikes and training, moderate Syrian opposition forces have failed to make major progress in fighting the IS.

Earlier Friday, Obama talked on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the latest political and security situation in Iraq and "underscore the U.S. enduring support of Iraq" in its fight against the IS, Earnest said.

Obama commended the recent progress that Iraqi forces have made in fighting the IS, while pledging to "intensify support for Iraqi security forces in these efforts."

Despite the deployment of U.S. troops in Syria, Earnest emphasized that there is not a military solution to the crises in Syria and Iraq.

"But the root cause of all of these problems will only be addressed through the kind of political transition that the United States believes is long overdue," he said.

In another development, no agreement was reached Friday on the future of al-Assad in the latest round of international talks held in Vienna, Austria, on the future of Syria.

[Source: Xinhua, Washington, 30Oct15]

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