US Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. His words implied not only a significant increase in the US offensive against ISIS, but also a potential increase in the number of American deaths.
His words come as a surprise, considering the fact that US attacks have dwindled in recent weeks. The Pentagon insists this has nothing to do with the bombing campaign Russia launched about a month ago.
“We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly,” said Carter. “Whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.” His words are in direct opposition to the promise Obama made that he would not deploy ground forces in the fight against ISIS.
Joshua L. Wheeler, Delta Force Master Sgt., was killed last week during a ground raid/rescue operation, becoming the first United States combat fatality in Iraq since the year 2011. According to Carter, the US will continue to conduct such raids in an attempt to rescue Iraqi hostages from 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,” said Carter.
When asked if he expects the fight against ISIS to result in more American casualties, Carter responded: “Our people will be in positions, they are right now everyday, there are people flying right now, there are people training and advising forces there and they’re in harms way. There’s no doubt about it.”
Last week’s raid was a mission to rescue 70 hostages from ISIS – hostages whose graves had already been dug and were waiting to be executed. Wheeler’s Special Ops team stormed into the ISIS-run prison in northern Iraq, managing to free every captive before the commando was killed.
Carter predicts “more of this kind of thing.” According to the Pentagon, such missions are a key element to the US mission to train, advise, and assist Iraqi forces.
“It doesn’t represent us assuming a combat role,” said Carter. “It represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission.” He later added that “this is combat; things are complicated.”
During the hearing, Carter described the US strategy to increase the offensive against ISIS. The plan boils down to “what I call the ‘three R’s’ – Raqqa, Ramadi, and Raids.”
To be more specific, the US military will support moderate Syrian opposition armies as they struggle to retake Raqqa – the current ISIS “capital” in Syria. The American-led coalition will also support Iraq’s forces in Ramadi. ISIS captured Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, in May. With help from US air power, local forces are attempting to retake the city.
“We expect to intensify our air campaign, including additional US and coalition aircraft, to target ISIL with a higher and heavier rate of strikes,” said Carter.
Russia may argue that its air strikes target ISIS, but in reality they are supporting the Assad regime. Meanwhile, Republicans are furious that we aren’t doing more to protect Syrian civilians and overthrow Assad.
“The (US) strategy has completely fallen apart,” said Senator Lindsey Graham. “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.”