BY RICHARD ENGEL, JIM MIKLASZEWSKI and CASSANDRA VINOGRAD, NBC News
(NBC News) - The White House will announce Friday that a small number of U.S. special operations forces will be sent into Syria, according to a senior U.S. official.
The senior U.S. official said that the forces will be stationed in northern Syria and work alongside groups with a proven track record of fighting ISIS. The move will be described as a "shift" but not a "change" in U.S. strategy against ISIS, the official added.
The special operations forces could work with Kurdish and allied actors who have come together under the umbrella of the "Syrian Democratic Forces," according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet public.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said the expected announcement made clear the White House was feeling the pressure of a "failed policy" against ISIS.
"I'm concerned that the administration is trying to put in place limited measures — too late — that are not going to make a difference," he told NBC News. "I don't see a strategy towards accomplishing a goal, I see an effort to run out the clock without disaster."
Obama and his administration have come under mounting pressure amid signs the anti-ISIS coalition has stalled or at least failed to turn the tide against the militants — including the recent Pentagon decision to abandon a failed program to train and equip Syrian rebels.
Small signs of a sea change in strategy have been filtering out in recent weeks and gained steam in wake of a U.S.-backed raid to free ISIS hostages that cost the life of a Delta Force commando.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned earlier this week that to expect more such raids when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon would be stepping up attacks against ISIS — including through "direct action on the ground" in Iraq and Syria.
Carter's remarks — in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee — immediately raised eyebrows given repeated assurances from President Barack Obama that U.S. troops in the region would not engage in combat.
The defense secretary himself referred to the aforementioned raid as "combat," where "things are complicated" in his comments to the committee.
The U.S. currently has around 3,300 troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces and protect U.S. facilities.