- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2016

U.S. military leaders remain unclear as to size and capability of Syrian and Kurdish militias Washington is depending on to lead the fight against the Islamic State terror group in Syria.

The main mission of the 250 U.S. troops President Barack Obama ordered into the country on Monday will be to draft a more accurate picture of the local fighting force willing to take on the Islamic State, also know as ISIS, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

“We do not know all the forces at play” among the various groups fighting battling to drive ISIS from its strongholds in Raqqa and elsewhere in the country, Mr. Cook told reporters at the Pentagon.

Recent reports on U.S. estimates allied rebel groups in Syria at roughly 3,000 to 8,000 fighters, with American trainers looking to increase that number to 15,000. Mr. Cook declined to comment on those figures during Monday’s press briefing. But he did reiterate the American mission would be focused on “amping up the pressure … [and] speed up the overall timeline” for a Syrian-led offensive on Raqqa.

Mr. Cook also declined to provide any details on the specifics of the U.S. training mission in Syria, including which local forces American trainers planned to meet with, whether the 250-man force would be deployed in small teams or as a single group or whether more U.S. trainers would be needed as the timeline for retaking Raqqa moves ahead.

He did reiterate that while the American troops heading to Syria would not be directly involved in the fighting, they would be at risk as a result of being deployed into a war zone. “The idea is they will not be on the front lines, but they will be in harm’s way,” Mr. Cook said.

Earlier this month, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the plan to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control is still in the early stages, with American advisers and drafting battle plans with local rebel forces.

“The plan to liberate Raqqa is not as developed as the plan to liberate Mosul,” Warren told reporters at the Pentagon during an April 8 briefing from Baghdad. “That is ongoing, it is in the early stages.”

Revamping the rebel training mission in Syria remains a key objective for U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel.

“We are counting on these local forces. … we have to work on their timetable,” Mr. Cook said of ongoing planning efforts to retake Raqqa from Islamic State control. “This is their home … this is about accelerating their effort” in the fight against the Islamic State, he added.

Over 200 American troops, backed by a contingent of attack helicopters and long-range rocket weapon systems, are en route to Iraq to back local forces as they prepare to assault Mosul, home to Islamic State in Iraq.

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