Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress on Tuesday that he intends to send additional U.S. special operations forces to Iraq to conduct raids on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. The forces will fight alongside Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga troops. The special operations forces will be an addition to American forces already in Iraq. The exact number of troops has not been determined. Carter told Congress Tuesday the Pentagon is prepared to send more special operations forces to support the fight against Islamic State terrorists in Syria.
Carter made the remarks testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. The force is in addition to the “less than 50” Special Operations forces Obama authorized in October to aid in the fight against ISIS in Syria. The Obama administration has faced scrutiny for its handling of ISIS in recent months. The President’s political critics at home — led by Republicans running for his office in 2016 — sharply criticized comments Obama made saying that ISIS was “contained,” just a day before a terror attack on Paris left 130 people dead. Carter said the force would capitalize on what U.S. troops are good at: “Gathering intelligence and having “the long reach that nobody else has.”
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. The raids in Iraq will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focused on defending its borders and building the (Iraqi security force’s) own capacity. This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria.”
While Carter did not divulge much about the special ops forces that will be battling ISIS, DOD officials have told NBC News that the expeditionary targeting force would be permanently based in Iraq. According to the officials, the force would be comprised of 100 to 150 special operations forces that would conduct ground combat raids against ISIS targets in both Iraq and Syria. The special ops missions would be along the lines of the October raid in northern Iraqi where they helped Kurdish fighters free 70 prisoners being held by ISIS, senior defense officials interviewed by NBC News said. One U.S. Special Operations commando was killed in that raid.
Carter discussed strategy and noted that U.S.-backed Kurdish forces had recently retaken the strategic town of Sinjar and cut off ISIS’s “main line of communication” between Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, which are the two biggest cities still under their control. Before Carter went before lawmakers, Obama in Paris defended his administration’s strategy against ISIS. Skeptical Republicans pushed Carter to respond to allegations they are being given a “rosy picture” of how well the fight is going against ISIS.
The territory under ISIL’s control has shrunk, that is a fact,” Carter said, noting that Kurds are now controlling those areas in Iraq and Syria. “That’s not a declaration of victory.”
Pressed to say if they were winning, Carter said, “We’re going to win.”