What's next for U.S. troops in Syria?

WASHINGTON -- President Obama is putting U.S. forces on the ground in Syria -- something he had vowed not to do.

But after a year of American air strikes, and the failure of a U.S. program to build an army of Syrian rebels, Mr. Obama is ordering in about 50 special operations troops to step up the war against ISIS.

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U.S. forces have struck inside Syria before in lightning raids, but these troops are in for the long haul. The White House says the new troops are advisers, not combat troops, but they will be in harm's way.

A Pentagon official said American special forces will spend up to 60 days at a time in the headquarters of U.S.-backed fighters in Syria. They will not, for the foreseeable future, go out on operations against ISIS.

Their mission: to coordinate a drive by various bands of Arab and Kurdish fighters on the ISIS capital of Raqaa with the help of American air strikes.

The number of jets flying strikes out of a nearby base in Turkey will quadruple from just six a few weeks ago to 24.

"We want to be prosecuting as many ISIS targets as possible in Syria," the Pentagon official said.

American and allied jets have been bombing Raqaa for months. Earlier this year, a Jordanian pilot had to bail out over Raqaa. He was captured by ISIS and burned alive.

But as Lt. Col. Mike Jones told "60 Minutes" earlier this month at the command center for the air campaign, a lot of time and fuel is wasted flying those strikes from bases 1,000 miles away.

"All of our fighters coming out of the Arabian Gulf, way down there, two and a half to three hour transit time up into the theater," Jones said. "That's a tremendous amount of transit time that could be spent on station."

With more planes spending more time over Syria and with some U.S-backed fighters already within 30 miles of Raqqa, ISIS could be forced to pull back fighters from the front lines in Iraq to defend their capital.

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"We can put pressure on there. we can strike them there, create fear, which makes them withdraw forces potentially from the Mosul area and from Ramadi," Jones said.

A Pentagon official said it will take up to a month for the special forces to reach Syria and would not rule out the possibility that more could follow.

"This is a start to gauge what's possible," this official said.

U.S. special operations forces are already on the ground advising and assisting Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

We know they're there because CBS News came across a group of them by chance -- meeting with a Kurdish general at his headquarters.

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While they wouldn't tell us anything, the Kurdish commanders say the American special forces are a crucial part of their fight against ISIS.

Some live and work right on the front line with the Kurdish fighters. Others help staff a joint command center in Erbil.

The mission includes spotting targets and helping to coordinate airstrikes and acting as support on raids like the one on an ISIS jail last week, which killed U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler.

The Kurds say they hope that there will be more joint operations and further cooperation.

Michael Morrell, former number two at the CIA and CBS News' senior security contributor, says the troop deployment doesn't sound like much, but he expects it to make a significant difference.

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"These special forces will be with Syrian Kurdish fighters who are right up against the heart of ISIS geographically. They're up against the center of mass of ISIS," Morrell says. "And secondly, the special forces will, I think, just as they have in Iraq, make these fighters batter strategically and better tactically, help them make better decisions militarily."

Russia also has ground troops stationed at a base in Syria, but Morrell says he doesn't think there's an increased risk of a U.S.-Russia confrontation.

"These Syrian forces, these Kurdish forces that we're going to be supporting are focused entirely on ISIS," Morrell says. "They're not focused on fighting the Assad regime, so I think the chances of us butting up against the Russians here is unlikely."