US soldiers in Syria to back anti-IS Kurds: Kurdish sources

BEIRUT (AFP) - US soldiers are in Kobane, the town in northern Syria nearly destroyed in fierce fighting with the Islamic State group, to train Kurdish forces to battle the jihadists, Kurdish sources said on Thursday (Nov 26).

Mustapha Abdi, an activist in the town on the Turkish border, told AFP the American instructors had arrived "in recent hours" in what is the first official deployment of US ground troops in Syria.

A source with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) said the Americans would help plan offensives against two Syrian cities held by IS - Jarablus and the jihadists' Syrian "capital", Raqa.

At the same time, they would have a role in coordinating with the Kurds and their Arab and Syriac Christian allies on the ground air strikes on IS by the US-lead coalition, the YPG source said.

Abdi said that the troops who had arrived were a "first group of instructors" who would train the Kurds.

There was no immediate information on how many of them had arrived or to what branch, or branches, of the military they belong.

The news comes after Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama's special envoy to the coalition, said Sunday that US forces would be arriving on the ground "very soon".

At the end of October, Obama authorised the deployment of 50 special operations troops to Syria, and McGurk said their job would be to "organise" local forces.

A key objective will be to "isolate" Raqa, he said.

The alliance of local fighters has already retaken more than 1,000 square kilometres from IS and killed around 300 IS fighters, McGurk said.