The Obama administration is preparing to broaden its military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by increasing the number of Special Operations forces who advise Syrian rebels, and it is also considering the addition of Army attack helicopters to the fight against militants in Iraq.
The goal would be to accelerate what US officials said Saturday was momentum behind Iraqi security forces and US-backed rebels in Syria fighting the terrorist organisation.
Inside Syria, the administration is prepared to add dozens of Special Operations forces to the 50 who now advise and assist Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State, say three Defense Department and military officials. The additional trainers, who could total as many as 200, would be able to expand their instruction to Syrian Arab fighters, who are likely to play a pivotal role in capturing Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, the officials said.
The administration’s plans for Iraq are more complicated.
Pentagon officials would like to increase efforts to advise and train Iraqi security forces for the anticipated assault on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the Islamic State’s main stronghold in the country. The plan calls for shifting trainers who are in the country to positions closer to Mosul, the officials said. They would also like to deploy Apache helicopter gunships – which are in Iraq, but used only to protect US personnel – and order them to participate in the battle for Mosul.
The military options under consideration – which could be announced in the next several days – were described by five Defense Department and military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because final decisions are pending in Washington and Baghdad.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter made clear that the administration will increase its military efforts to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, but he did not discuss specifics.
"You should expect us, to see us, doing more," he said at a news conference at the Al Dhafra air base as he opened travels in the Middle East. "It will be consistent with the same approach, but it’ll be across all the domains, right up to cyber."
Carter described the administration’s approach as one that will use members of the US armed services to help accelerate the military campaign against the Islamic State, but will not replace Iraqi security forces or Syrian rebels.
There are roughly 5,000 US service members in Iraq, according to Pentagon estimates, but the number often varies, sometimes daily, by hundreds.
Carter’s comments come at a time when Iraqi militias and military forces have been making notable progress on the battlefield against the Islamic State, including seizing parts of Hit, a city in Anbar province, this month.
Carter said that gaining the support of President Barack Obama to do more in Iraq has not been an obstacle.
"We’ve gotten approval from the White House every time the chairman and I have gone to ask for something that we’ve needed to accelerate going way back to last year," Carter said, referring to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who will also be travelling in the region in the coming days. "So that isn’t really the issue for us; the issue for us is yet identifying more ways to accelerate the campaign."
Source: The New York Times ,April 16