December 2015 – MIDDLE EAST – Do you remember when President Obama said, “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria?” It was September 2013, and the commander-in-chief was attempting to pacify fears that our country was getting sucked into another ground war in the Middle East as he considered launching targeted strikes against the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons. Those strikes never happened. But those boots on the ground did. Last month, 50 American commandos were ordered to northern Syria to back Kurdish soldiers fighting the Islamic State. On Tuesday morning, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, that more will be on their way.
“To build on that momentum, we’re sending, on President Obama’s orders and the chairman’s and my advice, special operations personnel to Syria to support the fight against ISIL,” he said. “American special operators bring a unique suite of capabilities that make them force multipliers. They will help us garner valuable ground intelligence, further enhance our air campaign, and above all enable local forces that regain and then hold territory occupied by ISIL. Where we find further opportunity to leverage such capability, we are prepared to expand it.””
Regaining ground might be the easy part. Last month, Kurdish peshmerga forces swiftly drove ISIS from the embattled village of Sinjar in northern Iraq with the help of American airstrikes. But, as we’ve already witnessed in places like Ramadi and Fallujah during the height of the Iraq War, holding ground in the aftermath of such an offensive requires much more than a few good men. The commandos in Syria will need support, and there’s a chance that support could come in the form of regular infantry units charged with holding the ground they take. The last U.S. combat troops left Iraq in 2011; now, they could return to ensure liberated cities across the region don’t become terrorist strongholds after they leave.
This news comes after Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham called for a 20,000-strong troop deployment across Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, told USA Today that he fully supports ramping up ground operations in Iraq and Syria to degrade and destroy the Islamic State. “Send however many guys or assemble whatever coalition is necessary to accomplish that goal,” he said. “Fifty guys to be deployed is not going to turn the tide of this battle.” We’ve come a long way since September 2013. –Maxim
New U.S. commando unit: Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Tuesday the formation of a new commando force that will be able to conduct direct raids in Iraq and Syria and help close the gap in intelligence that has so far plagued the fight against the Islamic State group – an apparent escalation of the U.S. role in battling the extremists following the terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere, “This is an important capability because it takes advantage of what we’re good at,” Carter said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
Carter said this new “expeditionary targeting force” will work alongside Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga through approval of the Iraqi central government, and may operate unilaterally in Syria. Its goals will include freeing hostages and capturing leaders of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, ISIL or regionally as Daesh. The unit, Carter said, “puts everyone on notice in Syria: You don’t know at night who’s going to be coming in through the window.”
Defense officials at the Pentagon and at the Baghdad headquarters overseeing the war against the Islamic State group confirmed the new unit, but could not provide any more details, including whether the troops comprising it are already in the region. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who testified alongside Carter on Tuesday, said the targeting force will chiefly focus on improving U.S. intelligence for the region and for the Islamic State group’s activities. –U.S. News