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More US soldiers will be fighting IS in Iraq, but it's not quite 'boots on the ground'

The US military will be taking part in ‘direct action’ against Islamic State.

Mideast Iraq US Troops US troops leaving Iraq in 2011. Source: Associated Press

UNITED STATES DEFENSE secretary Ashton Carter has said the US military will increase attacks on Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq, with additional air strikes and even “direct action” on the ground.

However, the latter of these options will be more focused than a general ‘boots on the ground’ strategy, often considered to be widespread action against Islamic State or a even fully-fledged invasion of Syria.

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.

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.

US Islamic State Defense Secretary Ash Carte Source: Associated Press

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”.

The defense chief also warned that more American soldiers would likely be in harm’s way as a result. “This is combat and things are complicated,” he said.

Defense officials say any additional Special Operations ground actions would fall under existing authorisations for the anti-IS fight.

Source: Associated Press/YouTube

Carter told senators the United States is focusing on the IS stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria and will boost support for rebels 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.

Additional Syria strikes will occur once the United States has better intelligence on IS targets.

The three Rs

Extra 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. Local Iraqis, supported by US air power, are trying to retake it.
  • In Syria, the Pentagon is dropping ammunition to rebels in the north in a program that replaced a failed bid to build a rebel army to fight IS. Defense officials hope recipients will pressure IS fighters in Raqqa.
  • Other raids, similar to last week’s to free captives, will also take place.

- © AFP, 2015

Read: Tony Blair (kind of) says sorry for Iraq War and admits it (maybe) led to Islamic State >

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