the president's top priority which is the safety and security of the american public. and because of this strategy, we have taken extremists off of the battlefield inside of syria who were hoping to use a safe haven inside of syria to attack the united states and our interests. so we know that we need a political transition inside of syria in order to address the route causes -- the route cause of so many of the problems that we have seen in syria, and those problems range from hundreds of thousands of syrians who have lost their lives in the civil war in that country, millions of syrians who have had to flee their homes to escape violence. some of those syrians have unfortunately died trying to flee their country, and it's a tragedy both in terms of the human toll that it has had on the syrian people. it's also significant in terms of the destabilizing impact it
has had throughout the broader region. countries are bearing a significant burden in trying to meet the basic humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands if not millions of syrians who have sought refuge in each of their countries. so this is a significant problem, and we can take military action to provide for the safety and security of the american people, but the route cause of all of these problems will only be addressed through the kind of political transition that the united states believes is long over due. >> reporter: we have heard that the president has authorized fewer than 50 special operations forces. how me exactly if this has already been authorized? can you tell us the exact number of forces that will be going into syria? >> the less than 50 number is accurate. i cannot be more specific than that.
primarily related to operational security. there are a number of details i'm not in position to discuss. primarily to ensure that our special operators can do their work as safely as possible. acknowledging that this is a very dangerous region of the world. >> reporter: you mentioned the call between the president and prime minister abadi, [ inaudible ] islamic state and iraq -- to fight the islamic state there. is there any talk of sending -- or intensifying that support through u.s. troops? >> well, there are -- i don't have any announcements along those lines to make from here today, but we have already found that pairing some u.s. forces, including special operations personnel, with iraqi security forces in a strictly train,
advise, and assist role has been effective the enhancing the capacity of those security forces to make progress against isil. so i don't have anything to announce along those lines today, but i certainly wouldn't rule out that something like that could be a possibility if it continues to be an element of our strategy that shows some promise. >> reporter: is there a reason why the president is not publicly speaking about this move today? is it because it's a been a relatively small maneuver? a small impact as part of a larger strategy? why aren't we hearing from him today? >> well, you have heard the president on many occasions discuss our strategy in syria, and the fact is, our strategy in this syria hasn't changed. the core of our military strategy inside of syria is to build up the capacity of local forces to take the fight to
isil. the president did make a decision to intensify that support by offering a small number of u.s. special operations military personnel to offer them some advice and assistance on the ground as they take the fight to isil. so this is an intensification of a strategy the president announced over a year ago. and i suspect he'll discuss it with you all again in the future. justin. >> reporter: i wanted to see if you could maybe define what the difference between -- or what the limits of advice and assist versus combat are. >> okay. >> reporter: and i ask that for two reasons. one is the president has laid down the ground mark that he would not send combat troops into syria, so i'm wondering why
this doesn't fall into that definition. and if you could flush out what exactly they are doing so we could have a marker to judge the success on. >> it's going to be hard for me to comment on that, because there's operational security that needs to be protected. there be more details that the department of defense could offer you, but from here i can't be more specific than to say that those special operations forces will be in syria, and offering some training, some advice, and some assistance to moderate opposition forces that are fighting isil in northern syria right now. as it relates to their mission, this is important for the american people to understand, these forces do not have a combat mission. in 2003, president bush ordered a large scale, long term, combat
operation in iraq. that is something that -- that barack obama then a state senator from illinois spoke out against. he disagreed with that decision. and he didn't at that point believe that it would serve the interests of the country to try to impose a military solution on the problems inside of iraq. and president barack obama has that same view. he does not believe that that military operation was in our best interests, and he does not believe that that is something we should do again. so that is why our special operations personnel inside of syria have a very different mission. it is not -- that mission is to build the capacity of local forces so that they can be even more effective than they have already been in taking the fight to isil on the ground inside of syria. >> reporter: [ inaudible ] one more time. because the president didn't say there wouldn't be a large scale
long-term ground operation. he said there would not be a ground operation in this area, a ground combat operation in syria, so i'm trying to figure out how can we measure that point? what -- what -- what are soldiers in combat doing that these train, advice and assist soldiers not doing. because it looks, and smells, and sounds like a combat mission. and soldiers are dying -- >> i'm trying to be as specific as possible with you, about these specific responsibilities that these special forces have. this is not an attempt to diminish the risk that they will face or the bravery that they will need to summon to carry out these operations. this is a dangerous place on the globe, and they are at risk, and there's no denying that. and that is, once again a reason for us to remember the significant sacrifices that our
men and women in the military make for our safety and security. and nobody is more keenly aware of that than the commander in chief. but the responsibilities they have there are different. first of tall, if we were envisioning a combat operation, we probably would be contemplating more than 50 troops on the ground, but because the responsibility they have is not to lead the charge to take a hill, but rather to offer advice and assistance to those local forces about the best way they can organize their efforts to take the fight to isil or to take the hill inside of syria. that is the role that they will be playing. again, it still means they are in a dangerous situation. it still means they will have all of the equipment that thaf need to protect themselves if necessary. i'm confident the department of defense has contingency plans in place to try to make it as safe
as possible for those forces to operate there. but, again, i don't want to diminish the significance of the risks they are taking in pursuit of this objective. >> reporter: last one, i apologize -- we're friends, but on the budget now that we ve a brood budget deal in place, i'm wondering what is going on with the appropriations process, and are you guys in negotiation with congress on that? and how confident are you that it will get done? and won't include any [ inaudible ]? >> when congress agreed to pass a continuing resolution back at the end of september, the goal all along had been to try to reach an agreement about these broader caps about a month in advance of the december 11th deadline, to give those in congress enough time to negotiate below those caps. that now has been met. congress will have more than a
month to put together an appropriations bill. based on the time line that congress says they need, we have that time line. we are hopeful, though, that progress will not get bogged down through an attempt by members of congress to add idealogical writers that are completely unrelated to these funding bills, and that is something that we have seen republicans be tempted to do in the past, and we are hopeful they will not do that in a way that details what should be a smooth process. kristen. >> josh, thanks. >> reporter: i want to be very specific about what the president has said about putting boots on the ground. he said, quote, i will not put american boots on the ground in syria. so with this announcement today is he effectively breaking that promise to the american people?
>> in september 2013, the president was receiving questions about what the united states was prepared to do, given our insistence that president assad had to go. and he was making the point he was not putting boots on the ground to take down the assad regime. in that is precisely the mistake the previous administration made putting u.s. forces in a large-scale long-term combat mission to take down saddam hussein. and we're still paying for that mistake. the quote you pulled there is a very different situation. >> reporter: but we have heard him reiterate that theme multiple times, that he wouldn't put boots on the ground in syria. >> you have read one quote, and that's out of context. the situation the president has described is a description of
the kind of mission our men and women in uniform will have in our isil campaign -- >> reporter: [ inaudible ] but he has consistently said he would not put boots on the ground. you can't deny that. >> the only quote you read to me was a quote from 2013. that was a direct question related to what we were prepared to do to ensure that our concerns about the assad regime, and the need for regime change were implemented, and the president said we're not going to implement a military strategy to take down bash bashar al-assad. what we want to do is build the capacity of local forces to make sure that they can be focused on isil. and that's the strategy that the president has been focused on here. and when the president has talked about combat situations, the president has been quite clear that he does not contemplate a large-scale,
long-term ground operation in iraq or syria, that was the plan in the beginning and it's our strategy today. >> reporter: you have acknowledged that these less than 50 forces could be in dangerous situations, so given that, how is that not a change in strategy? >> because our strategy all along has been focused on building the capacity of local forces to fight isil. and our efforts to resupply them, reequip them, to conduct air strikes in advance of their ground operations and in coordination with their ground operations have performed their performance on the battlefield. that element of our strategy to build their capacity has yielded progress, so the president wants to intensefy that assistance that we're providing, and one way to intensify that assistance is to pair them up with experts
with some of the smartest bravest fighters in the u.s. military. >> reporter: [ inaudible ] cam patrol their lives could be at risk, right? >> they will not be in a combat mission -- >> but [ inaudible ]? >> there is no denying the amount of risk they will take on here. and they will be equipped to make them as safe as possible in a dangerous part of the world. >> reporter: one more question, josh, does the president have the legal authority to put u.s. forces in syria? senator mccain said earlier today the word not authorized. [ inaudible ] redouble your efforts to try to get that passed in congress. >> that's a great question. and here is the answer.
congress in 2001 did give executive branch authorization to take this action, and there's no debating that. what the president has said he would welcome is congress passing an authorization to use military force to be more specific about what they are authorizing. the administration actually wrote the bill for them. we wrote our own piece of legislation that congress could pass that would give the administration more authority to carry our our anti-isil campaign. and the president of the united states sent some of his top national security advisors to congress to testify under oath in open hearings to explain. and after all of those efforts the president saying he would welcome congress's voice in this debate, having the administration write the legislation, to send it to
congress, sending his secretary of state, secretary of defense and the joint chiefs of staff head to testify in front of congress. and what has congress done? nothing. i don't know when congress is going to meet again. i know they often take fridays and mondays off. so maybe on tuesday they can have a meeting and discussion about what should be on their agenda. jim? >> reporter: is this 50 -- fewer than 50 and no more -- >> all right. that is white house press secretary, josh earnest giving us more details about the special operations forces that will be deployed to syria he says it will be less than 50. he says they do not have a combat mission. i want to go live to mike viqueira at the white house. mike? >> reporter: you can expect that josh ernest would be getting
sufficient questions from the press. he did say many times with regard to the fight against isil that there would be no american combat boots on the ground. this is sort of walks like a duck, talks like a duck test here. these are american forces that will be, a small number as we put it, less than 50, are there to advise and assist forces on the ground opposing isil. obviously he is leaving open the possible that they could and likely will be engaged in live-fire exercises. they are going to be in grave danger as anybody in the military to engages in this kind of thing -- >> mike, i have to cut you off for a moment, because there is a live press conference coming out of the talks on syria with
sergei lavrov and john kerry. so let's listen in. >> i want to begin by thanking all of our foreign minister counterparts, sergei lavrov and i asked many people to come and many dropped things at the last minute. they changed their schedules, and made themselves available, and we're very grateful that they all sensed the importance of taking time out of their schedules in order to be here, and i think that really underscores the urgency of this issue. i want to thank the united nations for the role they will play going forward, and we're
very grateful for stephon's willingness to take this on. four and a half years of war in syria, we all believe has been far too long, and the consequences of that war for so many innocent people is beyond description. devastation in refugee camps, migration camps all over. the result has been a lot of suffering and far too much damage to the region. so we came here, the foreign ministers who came here today with the conviction that the fighting and the killing absolutely has to end. and it's up to us to try to find a way to do that. our shared task is to find a way to use the tools of diplomacy in order to make that happen. this is a relatively large
diplomatic group who met today because there are a lot of stakeholders, a lot of neighbors, and a lot of people who are supporting one way or another one side or the other. so it will take pressure from many different directions to reverse the escalation of conflict and lay a credible ground work for peace. daesh and other terrorist organizations we all believe can never be allowed to unite or govern syria. and the united states pos regarding syria has not changed. we agree to disagree. the united states position is there is no way that president assad can unite and govern syria. and we believe that syrians deserve a different choice, and our goal is to work with syrians
from many factions to develop that choice. but we can't allow that difference to get in the way of the possibility of diplomacy to end the killing and to find the polluti poll -- solution. and that is the significance of the decision made here today, was that even though we acknowledge the difference, we know it is urgent to get to the table and begin the process of real negotiations. so we're employing a two-pronged approach, speaking for the united states. we are intensifying our counter daesh campaign and our efforts to end the conflict. that is why, today, president obama made an announcement about stepping up the fight against daesh. he authorized a small compliment
of u.s. special operations forces to deploy to northern syria, where they will help to coordinate local ground forces and coalition efforts in order to counter daesh. but at the end of the day, the united states and our coalition partners believe that there is absolutely nothing that would do more to fight daesh than to achieve a political transition that strengthens the governance capacity of syria, sidelines the person that we believe attracts so many foreign fighters and so much terror, and unite the country against extremism. make no mistake, the answer to the syrian civil war is not found in a military alliance with assad from our point of view. but i am convinced that it can be found through a broadly
supported, diplomatic initiative, aimed as a negotiated political transition consistent with the geneva come communique. and i want to thank sergei lavrov for his efforts to try to find that diplomatic solution, and for the commitment of russia, even as it is engaged in supporting assad, which is not a secret, in believing that we need to move towards a political solution. there is nothing inevitable in our judgment about the war in syria. the war came about because of choices that people made. and what people have the power to choose, they have the power to change. to change the pattern of violence in syria, we have to change some of the patterns of thinking. so that the choice is not between a dictator and daesh,
but between war and peace. between destroying and building, between catering to the violent extremes and empowering the political center. frankly we spent a fair amount of time today making sure that the discussion didn't get bogged down in the past. and i appreciate the discipline and the effort that all of the participants made to look to the future, and to try to find the ways to move there. we have to be creative, and we have to be determined in deciding how we go from here and where we go from here. and that was the subject of today's discussions. i want to make it clear also, none of us expected today to talk in and have one side or other say to the other, hey, assad's not an issue anymore.
or assad's going to do this or that. that was never in anybody's contemplati contemplation. this is the beginning of a new diplomatic process, not the final chapter, but i can tell you that all of us were convinced of the importance of fining a way to get back to the negotiating in a way that is real. and what makes it real this time, unlike any other previous meeting. every stake holder was represented there, in terms of all of the countries who are supporting one side or another in this conflict. so i will leave for the rest of my overseas trip with a fresh sense of possibility of improvement. i saw today in some of the conversation just how complicated and difficult it is,
indeed. but i believe the diplomatic situation is today more promising than it has been in some time because all of the stake holders came to this table. there were tough conversations today. but there is more willingness, a commitment by all of the parties there today to continue to talk about practical steps and there is more clarity about intentions. i'm not going to make any great claims here. i'm not going to blow anything up beyond the difficult path that it is. but we did make progress on the following. the participants agreed that syria's unity, independence, territorial integrity, and secular character are fundamental. we agreed that syria's state institutions will remain intact. we agreed that the rights of all syrians, regardless of ethnicity
or religious denomination must be protected. we agreed it is impairive to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war. we agreed that humanitarian access must be assured throughout the area of syria, and the participants will increase support for internally displaced persons, refugees and their host countries. we agreed that daesh and other terrorist groups as designated by the u.n. security council and as agreed by the participants must be defeated. pursuant to the 2012 geneva communique and u.n. security council resolution 2118, we invited the u.n. to convene representatives from the government of syria and the syria option for a political process leading to a credible, inclusive, non-sectarian
governance, followed by a new constitution and elections. we agreed that these elections must be administered under u.n. supervision to the satisfaction of the governed and the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, free and fair with all syrians, including the deaspra eligible to participate. we agreed this political process will be syrian lead and syrian owned, and that the syrian people will decide the future of syria, and we agreed together with the united nations to exmodalities of, and imp implementation of a nationwide ceasefire. we will continue to work on the areas of disagreement, and build
on the areas of agreement. and we'll reconvene within two weeks to continue these discussions. in closing, let me reiterate that we all have a sense of urgency. we all know what is at stake, and personally i have met with refugees the survivors of barrel bombing, the unspeakable torture that have taken place. i have talked to women who have struggled to hold their families, and i have heard the blood chilling stories of doctors and relief workers who are dealing with the humanitarian trauma that this war is creating on a daily basis. i am aware, as you are, of atrocities that have been committed and are being committed by the extremes on both sides. as i said a couple of days ago, the challenge is nothing less than to chart a course out of hell. and that's not going to happen
overnight. but i am convinced that the steps that we worked on today if followed up on, if worked on in good faith, can begin to move us in the right direction. and it's our job to accelerate the momentum so that we're not back here next year, or even the year after facing a middle east with even more refugees, with even greater numbers of dead and displaced and even more suffering and more eroding hope. the time has come to stop the building -- stop the bleeding and start the building, and that's exactly what we have set out to do. and i thank stephon and i thank sergei for the efforts to at least try to open a new chapter. >> i'll speak in russian for the benefit of the russian media.