Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the U.S. plans on stepping up its anti-ISIS efforts. “We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against [the Islamic State] or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," he said.
The U.S. is also considering sending special-operations forces to Syria, as well as additional resources, like attack helicopters, to Iraq.
Last week, U.S. forces helped raid a prison in Iraq, rescuing dozens of ISIS hostages. Carter did not provide more details about the circumstances in which ground forces might continue to get involved in Iraq, but he said that once they were identified and located, "no target is beyond our reach."
There are about 3,300 U.S. troops left in Iraq, and none in Syria, where air strikes have been the preferred method of combat.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz emphasized yesterday that whatever new actions the U.S. took in Iraq or Syria, they would be temporary: "And I can tell you that, as the President has made clear, we have no intention to pursue long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation has conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan."
However, the U.S. military might have a hard time getting these additional raids and air strikes approved by the Iraqi government, as they just aren’t very into the idea of rekindling a bigger relationship with us right now, ISIS or no. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told NBC News, "This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the U.S. Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations. We have enough soldiers on the ground." The spokesperson added that Iraq wasn’t trying to get rid of the U.S. completely, as its efforts concerning "arming and training our forces" were still extremely useful.
Al-Abadi said earlier this month that he would be interested in maybe getting more help from Russia, which recently began conducting air strikes in Syria — although the U.S. and its allies might argue that this involvement may not be too helpful when it comes to fighting ISIS.
“If we get the offer, we’ll consider it,” al-Abadi said in an interview last month. “In actual fact, I would welcome it.” He also complained about the U.S.
The U.S. in turn said that if Russia started meddling in Iraq, it would not be happy at all. Marine General Joseph Dunford told Iraqi leaders that it would be “very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well.”
This then led a Russian diplomat to offer some Harold & Kumar–laced commentary.
An Iraqi politician told Reuters that al-Abadi said “it wasn’t the right time to include the Russians in the fight because that would only complicate the situation with the Americans and could have undesired consequences even on long-term future relations with America.”
In other words, the fight against ISIS is as complicated as ever.