WASHINGTON, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday said additional Special Operations forces would be deployed to Iraq as part of a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.”
Carter made the announcement alongside Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a hearing of the House Armed Service Committee in Washington, D.C.
Carter said the force, in “full coordination with the government of Iraq,” would assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces to put more pressure on the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL.
“These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders,” CNN quoted him as saying.
Carter also said more commandos may be deployed to Syria if the current 50-strong contingent found reliable allies who were willing to seize ground from IS.
The United States has led an international air campaign against IS in Iraq since August 2014 and in Syria since September 2014. IS militants seized large swaths of northern and western Iraq earlier in the summer after spilling over from Syria.
Carter said coalition airstrikes reached their highest level last month as IS leaders and the group’s oil infrastructure were targeted. On Nov. 22, coalition warplanesstruck nearly 300 IS oil trucks in Syria.
The U.S. Department of Defense on Monday said the coalition conducted three airstrikes against IS in Syria and 12 against the group in Iraq, including five near Ramadi, where Iraqi security forces have besieged IS forces who took over the city in May.
As of Nov. 19, DOD tallied 8,289 coalition airstrikes in both countries — 6,471 of which were conducted by U.S. forces.
Still, Carter said the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, in which IS gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people, added a renewed sense of urgency to the operation.
“In the days ahead, we’ll be aggressive in looking for ways to reinforce success,” USA Today quoted Dunford as saying. “And we’ll seize every opportunity to increase the tempo and effectiveness of our operations.”
By Fred Lambert