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Carter: More US special ops headed to Iraq

Defense Secretary Ash Carter gestures toward Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. as he testifies at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Dec. 1, 2015.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 1, 2015

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday that the United States will send expeditionary military personnel into battle with Iraqi and Kurdish forces against Islamic State militants as part of a stepped-up war effort ordered by the White House.

The special operators will assist the Iraqis and peshmerga forces as well as conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture Islamic State leaders, according to Carter’s testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. The secretary also said the United States could increase the number of military trainers in Iraq and special operators deployed to Syria. He did not say how many special operators would be deployed.

The announcement by Carter comes in the wake of coordinated Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris and amid a wave of criticism from Republicans over what they see as President Barack Obama’s weak and faltering war strategy against the militant group.

“In full coordination with the government of Iraq, we’re deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces and to put even more pressure on [the Islamic State group],” Carter testified to the committee. “…That creates a virtuous cycle of better intelligence, which generates more targets, more raids, and more momentum.”

Raids will be conducted by request of the Iraqi government, but the forces also could strike unilaterally within Syria, Carter said.

“You don’t know at night who is going to be coming in the window and that is the sensation we want all [Islamic State] leadership and followers to have,” he said. 

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified to the House with Carter and said the forces will not respect any national border between Iraq and Syria when carrying out missions.

“We’re going to go where the enemy is,” Dunford said.

The Department of Defense acknowledged the formerly secret use of special operations forces in Iraq following the October battlefield death of Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler during a raid with Kurdish forces to free hostages held by Islamic State militants.

Those missions will be intensified now and the number of special operators specifically deployed to Syria also could be increased, as well as the 3,500 U.S. troops now deployed to various locations in Iraq to train and advise security forces, according to the testimony. The Pentagon said Monday that the deployment of 50 special operators to Syria “broke the seal” on ground deployments, according to USA Today.

Under questioning, Dunford said he does not feel limited to the current troop levels and will recommend increases whenever necessary.

The incremental changes are unlikely to placate many Republicans, who have called for bolder military action after the Islamic State group killed 130 people in Paris last month.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned the timing of the intensified efforts laid out by Carter and Dunford. 

“Why weren’t we doing that before,” he said.

Thornberry has compared the Obama war strategy to a “holding pattern” that is not launching enough air strikes or fielding enough special operators to swing momentum away from the Islamic State.

He said the military must take a stronger approach before the group launches similar attacks on U.S. cities, and again called for a new four-star general position based in the region who would oversee the fight. 

Over the weekend, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — two chamber war hawks — said the United States should deploy 20,000 more troops to Iraq and Syria.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, makes his opening statement during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Dec. 1, 2015.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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