An anonymous U.S. official told CNN on Monday that Army Delta Force special operators have begun operations against the Islamic State in Iraq.
Boots are on the ground, but not too many of them — about 200 pairs, to be exact — and they are very quiet boots, so the operation is not supposed to be taken as a betrayal of President Obama’s vow to avoid sending ground forces into Iraq.
According to CNN’s source, Delta Force teams have spent the past several weeks “preparing, including setting up safe houses, establishing informant networks and coordinating operations with Iraqi and Peshmerga units.”
They are now ready to begin combat operations to “target, capture, or kill top ISIS operatives” in Iraq.
CNN notes that while the Pentagon would not officially confirm the deployment of this “Expeditionary Targeting Force,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said on Monday that such a force was “in position,” and “it is having an effect and operating.”
“I expect it to be a very effective part of our acceleration campaign,” said Carter, referring to intensified efforts to drive ISIS out of Iraq. He added that the operation was designed to make ISIS “fear that anywhere, anytime, it may be struck.”
The model presented for these operations is the highly successful U.S. Special Forces raid on ISIS money man Abu Sayyaf’s compound in Syria last May, which killed Sayyaf, captured his wife, and seized a great deal of valuable information. Carter said the special forces deployed to Iraq would be prepared to conduct further operations in Syria as necessary.
The UK Daily Mail offers an interesting observation about the problem with expanding this large-scale special operations campaign into Syria: in Iraq, they can easily remand ISIS prisoners taken during special forces raids to the custody of the Iraqi government, but that’s not an option in Syria, where the United States remains officially opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad.
The Daily Mail worries this could mean the U.S. would be obliged to “repatriate ISIS fighters to their countries of origin” after successful raids on Syrian territory, which “may prove impractical.”
CNN reports there is a “raging debate inside the Administration” about whether to make the exploits of the ETF public, with special operations officials worried about security, while there is “pressure within the Administration to tout the successes of the effort – if indeed the operations are successful.”