- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

President Obama’s senior national security advisers have recommended measures that would move U.S. troops closer to the front lines in Iraq and Syria, officials have said. 

The recommendations, an apparent shift in the Obama administration’s strategy to combat the Islamic State militant group, comes less than a week after Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler was killed during a U.S. operation to rescue 70 hostages in northern Iraq

His death, marked the first U.S. military casualty in Iraq since the U.S. began its campaign against the Islamic State in 2014. That mission was also the first known instance when U.S. special operations forces were present on the ground, breaking from President Obama’s initial mandate that no U.S. troops would be placed on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State. 

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Last week the Pentagon stressed that special operations forces were authorized to be on the ground in a support role to Iraqi and Peshmerga fighters under Operation Inherent Resolve.

Now that ground role could be expanded to include a limited number of special operations forces on the ground in Syria and put U.S. advisers closer to the firefights in Iraq

The changes still require formal approval from Mr. Obama, who could make a decision as soon as this week and could decide not to alter the current course, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.  

It is unclear how many troops would be require to implement the suggested changes, but officials said the number, for now, is likely to be small. 

The new recommendations, which went to Mr. Obama in a memo last week, reflect the White House and Defense Department’s concern that the  fight in Iraq and Syria has plateaued and in need of a new strategy to generate momentum against the terrorist group. 

The options were generated by a field of commanders and vetted by top national security advisers, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter. 

The proposal would put a small number of U.S. advisers on the ground in Syria. Special Operations forces would work with moderate Syrian Arab rebels and some Kurdish groups. 

These groups, with support from American air power, are expected to mount a military offensive on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s headquarters in Syria, the Post reported. 

In addition, the recommendations include suggestions to embed U.S. advisers in Iraq to aid in specific operations such as the attack to retake Ramadi, a key western Iraqi city seized by Islamic State forces last spring.

Officials have also recommended a more aggressive air campaign to target Islamic State oil and electricity infrastructure in Iraq and Syria, the Post reported. Recent reporting indicates that the Islamic State earns as much as $50 million each month on oil sales. However, such a campaign risks increasing civilian casualties. 

The suggestions follow Mr. Obama’s announcement earlier this month that he would keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past 2016, abandoning his earlier drawdown timeline. 

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