Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday the U.S. military will deploy a specialized expeditionary targeting force to Iraq to launch unilateral raids and “put even more pressure” on ISIS.
In his opening statement, Carter says U.S. special operation forces would conduct operations in Iraq “at the invitation of the Iraqi government” and be in position “to conduct unilateral operations into Syria.”
DOD officials tell NBC News that the U.S. will consult with the Iraqi government but that does not preclude unilateral operations in Iraq as well. One official also points out that when talking about coordination with Iraqi forces “that also includes the Kurds” so there may be some instances in which the U.S. conducts operations in Northern Iraq without consulting Iraqi leadership in advance.
The officials stress the operations would not include “large numbers of forces” but smaller special operations expeditionary units. Whatever the number one senior official said “This cracks open the door” for U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Syria.
According to senior defense officials interviewed by NBC News, the operations will follow the October special ops raid alongside Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq that freed 70 prisoners being held by ISIS. One U.S. Special Operations commando was killed in the raid.
At the time, Carter openly acknowledged that the ground forces had been involved in combat operations and there would be more such raids.
Defense officials said the number of special operations forces that will be deployed to Iraq to conduct raids and their exact location in Iraq has yet to be determined.
“We’re using the might of the finest fighting force the world has ever know,” Carter told lawmakers. “Tens of thousands of U.S. personnel are operating in the broader Middle East region,and more are on the way. ”
Calling the recent bloody terror attack on Paris an “assault on the civilization we defend,” Carter vowed ISIS would be destroyed.
“We are acting to defeat ISIL at its core,” said Carter, using the government’s acronym for ISIS.
Then Carter discussed strategy and noted that U.S.-backed Kurdish forces had recently retaken the strategic town of Sinjar and cut off ISIS’s “main line of communication” between Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, which are the two biggest cities still under their control.
Before Carter went before lawmakers, President Obama in Paris defended his administration’s strategy against ISIS.
The Obama Administration has faced criticism for its ISIS strategy, especially from Republican lawmakers who have advocated a more hawkish approach to crushing the militant group.
This is a developing story. Please refresh for updates.