During testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on Tuesday that the United States will begin “direct action on the ground” against ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. This announcement comes after last week’s rescue operation in Northern Iraq which rescued dozens of hostages that were being held by ISIS. Carter and Pentagon officials initially refused to characterize the rescue operation as U.S. boots on the ground. However, Carter said last week that the military expects “more raids of this kind” and that the rescue mission “represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission.”
Carter early last week admitted that U.S. soldiers found themselves in combat during the raid in Hawija. Senator Lindsey Graham slammed the administration and calling the effort in Syria a “half-assed” strategy. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the “balance of forces” has tilted in Assad’s favor. Carter later outlined the President’s strategy to step up military attacks against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Carter referred to the strategy as the “three R’s” Raqqa, Ramadi, and Raids.
Specifically, the U.S. military will support Syrian opposition forces as they engage in more aggressive fighting in Raqqa, where ISIS has declared its capital in Syria. And the U.S.-led coalition is also supporting Iraq’s security forces in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in western Iraq. Carter referenced Joshua Wheeler, the first American serviceman to die in combat against ISIS.
The death of any service member is a tragedy,” “While our mission in Iraq is to train, advise and assist our Iraqi partners, in situations such as that operation where we have actionable intelligence and a capable partner force, we want to support our partners and we will.”
Secretary Carter also discussed President Obama’s new plan to improve its failed attempts at training and equipping moderate Syrian forces to battle ISIS.
While the old approach was to train and equipment completely new forces outside of Syria before sending them into the fight,” “The new approach is to work with vetted leaders of groups that are already fighting ISIL and provide equipment and some training to them and support their operations with air power.”
Carter confirmed that the possibility of a no-fly zone over Syria is still on the table, which would be used to prevent the Syrian air force from barrel bombing or using air power against the civilian population. Carter also pushed back against the idea that the U.S. and Russia were cooperating in Syria.
Although the two sides signed a document to avoid mid-air collisions over Syria, it does not represent cooperation and would not affect U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, he said. At the same time, he said the U.S. would “keep the door open for Russia to contribute to efforts toward a political solution, which in the final analysis is the only answer to the Syrian conflict.”