President Obama says the expanded deployment of Special Operations forces to Syria is part of a push to "find out what works and then double down," and at least in part, that effort will involve increased intelligence gathering.
After announcing that the number of forces would increase from the present 50 up to 300, he spoke with CBS News' Charlie Rose, who asked the president what increase in troops represented.
"It represents what I've said from the start -- which is that us dismantling ISIL is a priority, and although we are not going to send ground troops in to fight, we are going to try to find out what works and then double down," the president said in the interview in Hannover, Germany. "And one of the things that has worked so far is us putting Special Forces in for training and advising local forces, but also intelligence gathering."
The additional troops will provide intelligence, support and logistics to Kurdish and Arab forces trying to recapture the Syrian city of Raqqa, which ISIS has essentially made its capital. Mr. Obama also talked with Rose about the difficulties in combating ISIS in Syria.
"One of the challenges of mounting the fight against a group like ISIL that embeds itself with civilian forces -- they're not isolated; they're not out in remote areas where we can just hit them on their own," he said. "So having people who develop relationships with local tribes, people who may be going in and out of places like Raqqa, us being able to distinguish between those who we can work with and those we can't -- all of that is really important."
The president declined to say whether the Special Operations troops would be engaging in search-and-kill missions, saying, "As a general rule, their role is not to engage directly with the enemy but rather work with local forces. That is consistent with our overall policy throughout."
The decision to send more troops came as the president's attempt to broker a ceasefire in Syria collapsed over the weekend. Last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that 200 additional troops would be sent to Iraq to help Iraqi forces retake Mosul from ISIS.