White House announces it will not send troops into Syria, deploys them to the border

Ariel Cohen Contributor
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UPDATE (June 14, 10:54 PM): Three hundred U.S. troops now stand on the northern Jordan border adjacent to Syria, The Times of London reports. The deployment will reportedly remain there for months under the guise of a training exercise. 

The White House said Friday it does not plan to send U.S. troops into Syria, despite offering aid to rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

“Nobody has asked us to [go into Syria]. The Syrian opposition does not think that it’s a good idea,” Ben Rhodes, current Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication, said during a White House press conference Thursday evening. “We certainly don’t think it’s in our national interest to send U.S. troops.”

The White House distinguished their actions in the Middle East from those of the previous administration’s, expressing a reluctance to enter a scenario similar to the 2003 Iraq War.

“We need to be humble here about our ability to solve the problem in Syria,” Rhodes said. “I think recent history teaches us that even when you have U.S. troops on the ground, you’re not necessarily going to be able to prevent violence amongst civilian populations. We saw that in Iraq, for instance. And at the same time, when U.S. troops are on the ground, that involves us in a much more dramatic way of making us the issue instead of the interest of the country where we are.”

Instead of sending U.S. troops into Syria, Obama plans to help opposition groups on the ground.

“Our stated national policy is for Bashar Al-Assad leave power,” Rhodes said. “It is our preference that this be done politically, but we are going to continue supporting those in Syria who are working for a post-Assad future.”

Rhodes said that the best course of action in Syria is to strengthen a “moderate opposition that would be able to represent the broader Syrian public” by providing aid to the rebel groups, but the administration has yet to comment on the specifics of the aid.

“While I understand the interests, we’re just not going to be able to get into that level of detail about the type of resistance that we provide,” Rhodes said.

“I’m not going to be able to inventory the types of support that we’re going to provide to the [Syrian Military Council], but I’d point to my previous answers — suffice it to say that a decision has been made about providing additional direct support to the SMC to strengthen their effectiveness,” Rhodes said. “This is more a situation where we’re just not going to be able to lay out an inventory of what exactly falls under the scope of that assistance, other than to communicate that we have made that decision.”

Critics opposing U.S. involvement in Syria claim that the White House can never be completely sure who receives American aid within the rebel groups — or how they will use it.

“It is unclear what national security interests we have in the civil war in Syria,” Kentucky Republicans Sen. Rand Paul wrote in a CNN.com piece warning against American intervention in the Middle East. “It is very clear that any attempt to aid the Syrian rebels would be complicated and dangerous, precisely because we don’t know who these people are.”

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