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Pentagon proposes increased military engagement in Syria

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (C) arrives in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on February 20, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

In a proposal presented to the White House, the Pentagon has called for a significant increase in US military engagement in Syria including more Special Operations forces, attack helicopters and artillery, US officials say.

The favored option, among several recommendations currently under review by the White House, would ease a number of restrictions on US military activities imposed during the administration of former president Barack Obama, officials told The Washington Post.

Military planners have also proposed lifting a cap on military force level in Syria, which currently numbers around 500 Special Operations troops, who US officials say are training and advising allied militants on the ground.

While officials say American troops would not be directly involved in ground combat, the proposal would allow them to operate closer to the front line and would delegate broader authority down the military line from the White House before an operation is launched.

President Donald Trump, who has promised a tougher military action against Daesh terrorists in Iraq, Syria and beyond, received the plan Monday after giving the Pentagon 30 days to complete it.

The recommendations came ahead of an anticipated assault on the northern city of Raqqah, the de facto capital of Daesh in Syria.

Preparations are ongoing for the upcoming offensive, but they are not going smoothly.

In just the past two days, US troops intended for the Raqqah operation have been forced to make a detour to a town in northern Syria to head off a confrontation between Turkish and Syrian Kurdish fighters - both US allies.

Armed men in uniform identified by allied Syrian militants as US Special Operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqah on May 25, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The proposal for Raqqah, if approved by the White House, would effectively deal a blow to Turkey’s demands that military equipment be denied from Syrian Kurds, considered terrorists by Ankara.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the participation of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Raqqah operation is unacceptable.

US Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the Baghdad-based commander of a coalition purportedly fighting Daesh, said Wednesday that talks were underway with Turkey on the role the NATO ally might play in the operation.

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The commander, however, insisted that there was “zero evidence” that the YPG was a threat to Turkey.

Turkey launched its incursion into Syria in August 2016, sending tanks and warplanes across the border in what was condemned by Damascus as an act of aggression.

Turkish-backed militants have in recent days seized two Kurdish-held villages in Syria, inching closer to Manbij, a city near the Turkish border which Erdogan has promised to capture.

On Saturday, the US military said it had “increased force presence in and around Manbij to deter hostile acts, enhance governance and ensure there’s no persistent YPG presence.”

Turkey has long threatened to forcibly eject the Kurds from the area.

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