The nation’s top military officer told a House subcommittee Wednesday that U.S. troops could potentially hit the ground in Syria to fight Islamic militants, offering another sign the operation is headed towards expansion.
Speaking to the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said, “If the commander on the ground approaches either me or the secretary of defense and believes that the introduction of special operations forces to accompany Iraqis or the new Syrian forces, or JTACS (joint tactical-air controllers), these skilled folks who can call in close-air support, if we believe that’s necessary to achieve our objectives, we will make that recommendation.”
Dempsey’s comment was played down by Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, who stressed that the comment was in response to a “hypothetical” situation, and that U.S. troops would be there only for troop rescue operations, the Military Times reports. An anonymous defense official made the same point to Agence-France Presse.
AFP adds that the official said Dempsey was addressing “flexibility and preservation of options.”
Despite the downplay of the ground troop scenario, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week also indicated the door was open for ground troops in Syria in the context of the the proposed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF).
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