By Debbie Gregory.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has confirmed that the Pentagon plans to sharply increase spending on the fight against the Islamic State group and potentially put more American “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria in an “enabling” role.
“We have 3,700 boots on the ground in Iraq today, and we’re looking to do more. We’re looking for opportunities to do more,” Carter said.
Carter acknowledged there are about 50 U.S. Special Forces troops serving as advisers in Syria to local forces opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in addition to the American troops serving as trainers and advisors to the Iraqi Security Forces.
“We’re not looking to substitute for local forces in terms of governing the place and policing the place,” Carter said. “That’s why we put Special Forces in Syria. They’re tremendous force multipliers. They’re the ones who connect them to the great might of our military. The strategic concept is not to substitute but to enable” local forces, he said.
The new campaign will focus on helping local forces retake the militants’ two main strongholds, Mosul, Iraq and Raqqah, Syria.
“We need to destroy them in those two places, and I’d like to get on with that as soon as possible,” he said.
Carter said he hopes that other countries will offer troops as well. “It won’t just be Americans. This is crucial. It has got to be the other members of our so-called coalition,” he said.
While in talks with defense ministers from allied nations in Brussels, Carter will coordinate future plans for the anti-ISIS fight.
“What I’m going to do with them is to say, all right, here are all the capabilities that are needed — boots on the ground, airplanes in the air, more prosaic things, logistics, bridging, training for those police that are going to patrol cities like they’re patrolling Ramadi now once the cities are retaken,” he said.