President Obama has authorized sending dozens of Special Operations Forces to Syria to help advise local ground troops and coalition efforts in the fight against the Islamic State, officials said Friday.
The decision comes after administration officials earlier this week said they were looking at moving U.S. troops closer to the front lines in the anti-ISIS fight, as part of a broader effort to recharge the struggling campaign.
The deployment marks the first time U.S. troops will be working openly on the ground in Syria. A senior administration official called it a "small" deployment, involving "fewer than 50" Special Ops Forces to northern Syria.
Several other steps were also announced Friday, including a new potential deployment to Iraq.
According to the official, the administration is working with the Iraqi government to set up a "Special Operations Force (SOF) task force to further enhance our ability to target ISIL leaders and networks." The official also says the U.S. will be sending additional aircraft, including F-15 fighters and A-10s, to the Incirlik air base in Turkey.
Fox News is told that congressional leaders have been notified of the plans.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged at Friday's press briefing the changes might not be a game-changer and stressed that a diplomatic solution is ultimately needed.
"This military component of that strategy is an important part," he said, while urging a "political transition" in Syria. He called this an "intensification" of the president's already-announced strategy, while stressing that U.S. forces still don't have a "combat mission" in Syria.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter hinted at the deployment earlier this week, saying the U.S. was retooling its strategy in Iraq and Syria and would conduct unilateral ground raids if needed to target Islamic State militants. The U.S. has done special operations raids in Syria, and it participated in a ground operation to rescue hostages last week in northern Iraq that resulted in the first U.S. combat death in that country since 2011.
Reuters first reported that the administration was sending forces to Syria to serve as advisers.
Some lawmakers have been urging the Obama administration for months to get more engaged with the anti-ISIS campaign, particularly as Russia launches airstrikes -- which many U.S. officials say are targeting Syrian opposition members.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, on Friday said a "more serious effort against ISIS in Syria is long overdue."
He said in a statement: "Absent a larger coherent strategy, however, these steps may prove to be too little too late. I do not see a strategy for success, rather it seems the Administration is trying to avoid a disaster while the President runs out the clock."
The changes come after a U.S. train-and-equip program to help Syrian rebels was effectively ended.
Top military officials testified earlier this week that their goal remains to "defeat ISIL" in the end.
"No one is satisfied with our progress to date," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
At the same hearing, Carter described a changing approach to the fight against ISIS, focusing largely on Raqqa, the Islamic State-declared capital in Syria, and Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq.
Carter said the U.S. would intensify the air campaign against the Islamic State with additional U.S. and coalition aircraft and heavier airstrikes.
The U.S.-led effort "will include more strikes against IS high-value targets as our intelligence improves, and also its oil enterprise, which is a critical pillar of IS's financial infrastructure," he said.
Fox News' Kevin Corke and Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.