Tags: Syria | conflict | Iraq | US | military

Ash Carter: US Open to 'Direct Action on the Ground' Against ISIS

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Tuesday, 27 Oct 2015 02:50 PM

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Tuesday said the United States will ramp up attacks on Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq, with additional air strikes and even direct action on the ground.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter said he expects more actions like the one last week that freed dozens of captives but left an American commando dead in Iraq.

"We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," Carter said.

He did not elaborate on what he meant by "direct action on the ground."

The Obama administration opposes committing US ground forces to Syria, but currently some 3,500 US forces are in Iraq in a "train and advise" capacity to support local forces as they fight IS jihadists.

Carter's statement appears to be a doubling-down of comments he made last week following the raid in which US Special Operations forces and Kurdish peshmerga troops stormed an IS-run prison near Hawijah in northern Iraq, freeing some 70 captives who were facing imminent execution.

Following the raid, in which Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler became the first American serviceman to die in action in Iraq since 2011, Carter said he expected "more of this kind of thing."

Carter told senators that the United States is now focusing its efforts on the IS stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria and will boost support for rebel groups fighting the jihadists.

"We expect to intensify our air campaign, including with additional US and coalition aircraft, to target ISIL with a higher and heavier rate of strikes," Carter said, using an alternate acronym for IS.

"This will include more strikes against ISIL high-value targets as our intelligence improves," he added.

 

 

Additional raids and a focus on Raqqa are two components of an anti-IS strategy Carter described as being centered on the "three Rs" -- raids, Raqqa and Ramadi.

Ramadi is the capital of Iraq's Anbar province and has been held by IS forces since May this year. Local Iraqi forces, supported by US air power, are trying to retake it.

"We are willing to continue providing more enabling capabilities and fire support to help our Iraqi partners succeed," Carter said.

In Syria, the Pentagon is dropping ammunition to rebel groups in the north in a new program that replaced a failed attempt to build a rebel army to fight IS. Defense officials hope the recipients of the ammunition will pressure IS fighters in Raqqa.

Carter's pledge to intensify strikes comes as the US-led coalition in fact has been hitting fewer targets in Syria in recent months.

Pentagon officials insist the diminished tempo reflects a lack of decent targets, and has nothing to do with Russia launching its own bombing campaign a month ago.

The conflict in Syria has killed more than 250,000 people since it broke out in March 2011, sparked by a bloody crackdown on protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Carter testified alongside General Joe Dunford, who is America's top general and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

 

Their comments about the situation in Syria elicited howls of disapproval from Republican lawmakers, who say the United States should be doing more to protect civilian populations in Syria and supporting the overthrow of Assad.

Russia is bombing in support of the Assad regime -- though Moscow claims it is targeting IS and other "terrorists" -- and Iran has sent advisers and troops to Syria to help the government. Dunford said the "balance of forces" is currently in Assad's favor.

"The (US) strategy has completely fallen apart," Senator Lyndsey Graham said. "Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are going to fight for their guy and we are not going to do a damn thing to help the people who want to change Syria for the better by getting rid of the dictator in Damascus."

He went on to call the US approach in Syria "half-assed" at best.

Several lawmakers asked why the United States isn't setting up no-fly zones or protective buffer zones in Syria.

Carter and President Barack Obama are reluctant to undertake such a commitment because of massive costs and the greater risk to US personnel.

Imposing no-fly zones has only gotten more complex as a proposition since Russia entered Syria's war a month ago.

wat/jm

© AFP 2017

   
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Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Tuesday said the United States will ramp up attacks on Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq, with additional air strikes and even direct action on the ground.
Syria, conflict, Iraq, US, military
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2015-50-27
Tuesday, 27 Oct 2015 02:50 PM
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