Escalation: U.S. Sending More Special Operators to Iraq

Susan Jones | December 1, 2015 | 12:04pm EST
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq and its Implications for the Region. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

( - "We're at war," Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. And the U.S. is sending more troops to the front.

"Tens of thoussands of U.S. personnel are operating in the broader Middle East region. And more are on the way," Carter said in his opening statement.

"We have some of our most advanced air and naval forces attacking ISIL. U.S. troops are advising and assisting ground operations in Syria and Iraq. I'll briefly describe some of these efforts and how we're accelerating them."

It was the acceleration part that came as news:

"In full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Peshmerga forces put even more pressure on ISIL. These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders. This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations in Syria."

Carter said the U.S. raids in Iraq will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focus on defending its borders and building the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Carter said the U.S. also is expanding its attacks on ISIL's infrastructure, including its oil wells and tankers.

"We're constantly loooking to do more in this fight, but the world  must do the same. The international community, including our allies and parters, has to step up before another attack like Paris."

Carter noted that France has been "galvanized" since the attacks; Britain is debating whether to expand its air strikes; and Italy and Germany have made "additional contributions."

"But we all -- let me repeat all -- must do more." Carter specifically mentioned Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the "do more" category.

Carter said the Obama adminstration is "encouraging" its coalition partners to "provide additional strike and support aircraft, special operations personnel, deeper and more effective intelligence sharing, additional train, advise and assist personnel resources, combat search and rescue capabilities, combat support and combat service support, base security forces and economic aid and humanitarian assistance."

Carter did not say how many more troops the U.S. is sending to Iraq and Syria. There currently are about 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq, and President Barack Obama previously announced he was sending fewer than 50 special operations forces to Syria.

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