The U.S. will be stepping up its campaign against ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement to Congress, also noting that this will include “direct action on the ground”.
Up to today official U.S. action in Syria has involved airstrikes and supplying anti-ISIS groups with arms, munitions and training, but today Carter told the Senate Armed Services committee “we won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL…or conducting such mission directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.”
Carter said that some of the on the ground operations had already started, citing last week’s rescue operation with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq to free hostages held by ISIS. He said last Thursday, U.S. commandos acting on information that dozens of hostages held by ISIS were about to be killed, launched a predawn joint attack with Kurdish commandos on a prison in northeastern Iraq. The operation although successful claimed the life of American Delta Force Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Roland, Oklahoma, a highly-decorated soldier and father of four.
The rescue operation was the first reported instance of American troops engaging ISIS fighters on the ground in Iraq under President Obama’s “train and advise” local forces against the terror group.
Up until now, Carter has refused to call the operation as “U.S. boots on the ground”. Now Carter says the U.S. will be conducting “more raids of this kind” and that last week’s rescue mission “represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission.”
Carter acknowledged American troops “will be in harm’s way, no question about it. This is combat and things are complicated.”
President Obama’s most senior national security advisers have been recommending moving U.S. troops closer to the front lines in Iraq and Syria for some time.