US Deploying a ‘Targeting Force’ to Iraq, Syria. Expect Unilateral Special-Ops Raids.
Defense secretary: ground operations are more extensive than previously described, and are still growing.
President Barack Obama is deploying "a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and to put even more pressure on ISIS," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress on Tuesday, in testimony that publicly recognized and explained an escalation of U.S. military involvement on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
Those forces are in addition to the president’s recent announcement he would deploy “up to 50” special operators into Syria to help guide local fighting and intelligence operations there, according to a defense official.
Obama’s top two military advisors laid out for the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday the president’s latest strategy, tactics, and plans to defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS. Carter echoed what White House officials have said for weeks: expect additional special operations raids, air strikes, use of local Syrian, Kurdish, and Iraqi forces, and increased intelligence activities.
But Carter also revealed that U.S. military operations inside Iraq and Syria have already gone beyond what has been previously described, and this involvement will continue to grow.
“These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders," Carter said. "That creates a virtuous cycle of better intelligence, which generates more targets, more raids, and more momentum.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said the operations produce key intelligence in the fight against ISIS.
Dunford also said the anticipated move against the ISIS-held Iraqi city of Mosul will come “months from now," not weeks. "Mosul is not a focus for Iraqi Security Forces,” he said. “Ramadi is."
The public discussion over how Obama will escalate the U.S. fight against ISIS has focused on the pronouncement of up to 50 special operations forces being deployed into Syria, and the increase of special operations raids. That number was heavily criticized as an insufficient response to ISIS, which has in recent weeks expanded beyond Iraq and Syria to down a Russian airliner over Egypt, and launching attacks in Beirut and Paris.
Carter and Dunford also said elite U.S. troops would act unilaterally in Syria and Iraq. Asked by the panel whether special operators will be limited to Syria, Dunford said, "Our operations will be intel-driven. The enemy doesn’t respect boundaries; neither do we."
“This is an important capability,” Carter said, “because it takes advantage of what we’re good at… and it puts everyone on notice in Syria. You don’t know at night when someone’s going to be coming in the window.”
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