Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Wednesday that American special forces troops have landed in Iraq.
“The specialized expeditionary targeting force I announced in December is now in place and is preparing to work with the Iraqis to begin going after ISIL’s fighters and commanders,” he said during a speech to troops from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, as reported by the Associated Press.
The new deployment is said to include about 200 special operators, added to the 50 U.S. special forces troops deployed against the Islamic State in Syria last year.
The AP describes Carter giving an “upbeat assessment” of recent progress against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, emphasizing the recapture of the Iraqi city of Ramadi from the terror state. His discussion of plans to hit the ISIS strongholds of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq suggested the new special forces deployment in Iraq would have a role to play in the long-promised battle to retake Mosul.
“President Obama is committed to doing what it takes – as opportunities arise, as we see what works, and as the enemy adapts – until ISIL is delivered a lasting defeat,” said SecDef Carter.
The AP notes that 1,800 soldiers from the 101st Airborne will soon be deployed to Iraq, “largely to train Iraqi forces and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.”
The Washington Post quotes Carter emphasizing that, while the 101st took Mosul during the Iraq War, it was important for the Iraqis to do the job themselves this time, after receiving American training. “We could deploy multiple brigades on the ground and arrive in force. But then it would likely become our fight, and very likely our fight alone. Moreover, we’d have to fight on the enemy’s terms, and give away our greatest advantages – mobility, firepower and precision,” he said in Kentucky.
Carter suggested the new battle for Mosul would be a “pincer movement,” with Iraqi troops hitting ISIS from the south, while Kurdish forces attacked from the north. However, the Washington Post cites analysts who said the Iraqi military and Kurds need to improve their communications “significantly” before such an operation would be possible.
The UK Express steps in to relay the parts of Carter’s speech that weren’t quite so “upbeat”:
Mr Carter was addressing soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division, 1,800 of whom will deploy to Iraq in the coming months, largely to train Iraqi forces and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
Beyond Syria and Iraq, Mr Carter acknowledged ISIS was “metastasizing” in North Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen, which he said required a “nimble response” and pointed to strike that killed ISIS’s leader in Libya on November 13.
Mr Carter is to meet with defense ministers from six nations – France, Britain, Australia, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands next week in the French capital of Paris, where he called for “all of the capabilities they can bring to the field.”
He added: “As I will emphasise in Paris next week, we must all do more.”
President Obama keeps insisting ISIS is “contained,” but his Secretary of Defense is telling the troops ISIS is “metastasizing” in North Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya… prompting Carter to urge Europe’s defense ministers to marshal “all of the capabilities they can bring to the field.”
Carter sought to downplay the combat role of U.S. troops in these special operations, but the UK Express does not seem to be buying it. Their headline is “THE ISIS FIGHTBACK: Special Forces Arrive in Iraq to Smash Daesh.”
Foreign Policy reported last week that Iraqi officials are talking about raids against Islamic State targets carried out by “foreign special forces” believed to be U.S. troops, although Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, denied these accounts, calling them “Iranian disinformation.”
Presumably he means the Iranians want Shiite militias in Iraq to grow angry about the presence of American troops in the theater, because the militias have previously vowed to stop fighting ISIS and turn against U.S. soldiers if they were deployed.