Washington: Signaling a possible escalation of US military action in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said that the United States is retooling its strategy in Iraq and Syria and would conduct unilateral ground raids if needed to target Islamic State militants.
The US has done special operations raids in Syria and participated in a ground operation to rescue hostages last week in northern Iraq that resulted in the first US combat death in Iraq since 2011. Carter did not say under what circumstances the US. Might conduct more ground action, but said, "Once we locate them, no target is beyond our reach."
"We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," Carter said yestreday, using an acronym for the militant group.
Carter and Marine Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Republicans harshly criticised the Obama administration's strategy in Syria and Iraq, where IS militants have captured large swaths of territory and have largely fought the US-led coalition to a stalemate.
With little recent progress in defeating the militant group, the defense secretary's testimony outlined a changing US approach to the fight against IS. The changes point toward the prospect of deeper US military involvement, although President Barack Obama has said he would not authorize a major commitment of ground combat forces.
Among other options being considered is providing close-air support for Iraqi ground forces with Apache helicopters or other aircraft, and embedding US military advisers with smaller Iraqi units, thus placing the Americans closer to the front lines. That's according to defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The US now has about 3,300 troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces and to protect U.S. Facilities. There are no US troops in Syria.