On Tuesday Obama’s Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, told the Senate Armed Services committee the United States will begin “direct action on the ground” in Syria and Iraq.
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) October 27, 2015
The move was recommended by Obama’s senior national security advisers.
Carter said the new strategy against the Islamic State will include raids like the one that killed Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command.
“The changes we’re pursuing can be described by what I call the ‘three R’s’ – Raqqa, Ramadi and raids,” Carter said.
Earlier this month a Russian airstrike reportedly struck an ISIS training camp near the village of Maadan Jadid, 45 miles east of Raqqa.
On October 8 the Pentagon revealed it had diverted aircraft on a mission in Raqqa in order to avoid a collision with Russian warplanes.
Raqqa is said to be the capital city of the Islamic State in Syria.
Wheeler was killed on Thursday during an operation near the town of Hawija in the Iraqi province of Kirkuk. He was part of a team of U.S. special operations troops who joined Kurdish peshmerga fighters in a predawn raid of a detention facility run by the Islamic State, according to the Army Times.
Prior to the raid around 3,500 U.S. soldiers were limited to advising and training Iraqi and Kurdish forces on military bases and training areas, according to military officials.
Prior to Carter’s announcement, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the raid in Kirkuk was not a precursor to direct U.S. military activity on the ground in Iraq.
“There’s a discrepancy between the official rhetoric coming from the Pentagon and the White House and the reality on the ground. What happened with that soldier being killed is clearly a case of combat: he died in combat. So for the Administration to then say that the US will not have a combat role doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” said Max Abrahms, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University.
In March Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel boots on the ground would eventually be required in Syria and would fight alongside moderate Syrian rebel groups.
It is generally acknowledged there are currently few if any moderate fighters in Syria trying to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad.
“If the commander on the ground approaches either me or the secretary of defense and believes that the introduction of special operations forces to accompany Iraqis or the new Syrian forces, or JTACS, these skilled folks who can call in close-air support, if we believe that’s necessary to achieve our objectives, we will make that recommendation,” Dempsey said.