President Obama announced on Friday that he had ordered several dozen Special Operations troops into Syria for the first open-ended mission by United States ground forces in that country, deepening American involvement in a war he has tried to avoid for more than four years.
While the deployment was small in scale, it was large in importance for a president who had refused to commit American ground forces inside Syria beyond quick raids. White House officials said the troops would advise local forces fighting the Islamic State and not play a direct combat role, but they left open the possibility of sending more in the future.
The escalation came just weeks after Russia inserted itself into the multisided civil war to support President Bashar al-Assad, bombing opposition forces, including some supported by the United States. Although not characterized as a response, the dispatch of American troops further complicates a kaleidoscopic battlefield with varied forces and sometimes murky allegiances.