(photo credit: ISLAMIC SOCIAL MEDIA)
WASHINGTON – The US is deploying special operations forces to both Iraq and Syria “to support the fight against ISIL [Islamic State],” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Monday.
Characterizing US personnel as “force multipliers” in the fight against Islamic State, Carter said their presence on the ground will enable them to collect ground intelligence, strengthen the target list in their air campaign and aid local forces supported by the West.
“These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders,” Carter told the House Armed Services Committee.
US President Barack Obama approved last month the deployment of up to 50 special forces personnel, equipped to conduct targeted raids against Islamic State fighters based in eastern Syria and northern Iraq. Carter said that number may increase over time, if the first 50 prove effective.
US troops withdrew completely from Iraq in 2011, after Washington and Baghdad disagreed on terms in negotiations over a status of forces agreement. The Iraqi government has since invited the US and Iran to assist in its fight against the Sunni Salafist group.
Washington is now leading a 60-nation coalition to degrade and destroy Islamic State, primarily using air power. The alliance has conducted over 8,000 air strikes targeting the group in the past year.