DOD Spokesman: 'We're Moving Right Along' on Bringing 'Additional Capabilities' to Iraq

By Susan Jones | February 18, 2016 | 11:40am EST
U.S. soldiers prepare to participate in a training mission with Iraqi Army soldier, right, outside Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

( - Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Tuesday the United States is "aiming to accelerate" the anti-ISIS campaign "in every possible way." And on Wednesday, Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq, indicated that additional U.S. "forces" will be forthcoming.

A reporter asked Warren about "potential force increases" for training, advising and assisting the Iraqi fighters.

"So we're continuing that," Col. Steve Warren responded. "You know, General MacFarland will -- and the staff here will create what we believe are the additional capabilities that we need, you know, for the fight, for the future fight.

"And we're going to -- we're going to give those to CENTCOM, U.S. Central Command, and we'll let them have a look at them, and they'll process them, run those recommendations through their staffing process and then it'll move along the chain of command from there.

"So we're fairly far along on it. I believe that no matter what happens, all of these things have to get worked concurrently, if you will, through the government of Iraq, right? We've been very clear that we're not going to bring additional forces here without the government of Iraq's approval, so we're going to have to work these things on two parallel tracks. But we're moving right along."

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Carter told PBS's Charlie Rose that he has "proposed a number of ways of accelerating" the fight against Islamic State terrorists.

Carter said the strategy remains the same -- to train, equip and assist Iraqi ground troops, because when the fighting is done, the Iraqis are the only ones who can hold the territory.

"In the end, we can't substitute for them but we can enable them," Carter said. "We can help them. That's our overall strategic approach. And we're constantly looking for ways to do that. So just in the last few months, to give you an indication, we have introduced some additional strike forces in the region. We have--"

"What does that mean, strike forces?" Rose interrupted.

"Some Special Forces that are capable of doing raids and strikes and assisting the Iraqi counterterrorism forces in striking ISIL targets there," Carter said.

"These are Special Forces that are being used on offensive missions to strike ISIL?" Rose asked.

"Yes, we announced that about a month and a half ago -- they're operating there. That's an example," Carter said.

"Isn't that an example of boots on the ground?" Rose asked.

"It is. It is. It is," Carter responded. "There are 3,700 boots on the ground in Iraq. There is all this talk about boots on the ground. We have boots on the ground in Iraq. And what are they doing? They are training Iraqi forces. They are assisting Iraqi forces. They're helping train, by the way, Sunni, which is very important. They're helping train police because, after a city is cleared, the police have to -- there have to be police to secure the city, keep the order.

"They're helping the Iraqis with all kinds of things that may not sound very interesting but are critically important like bridges, helping them with their air force and other kinds of capabilities."

"But they're also engaged in search and destroy," Rose said.

"They are. They are. They absolutely are," Carter said.

As has reported, Carter announced last December that the U.S. was deploying a "specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Peshmerga forces put even more pressure on ISIL." He said the Special Forces would "be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders." They would also conduct "unilateral operations in Syria."

Charlie Rose asked Carter if he's looking at 4,500 as the new U.S. troop level -- up from the current 3,700.

"We don't think that way," Carter said. "We're looking for opportunities to do more. Every time we see a way that we can accelerate -- in this case, the movement of the Iraqi forces with our help northward from Ramadi and Hit to Mosul and eventually to take Mosul, every time we find an opportunity to do that, we'll ask the president. I'm sure if it makes sense, the president will say yes. That's what he's done consistently.

"But we're looking for those opportunities."

At a news briefing on Feb. 2, Army Lt. General Sean MacFarland, the U.S. commander directing the fight against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria, said he's been directed to come up with a series of proposals "that would allow us to increase the pressure on the enemy.

"Now, that doesn't necessarily equate to boots on the ground," he said. "It doesn't necessarily equate to American boots on the ground. It could be coalition boots on the ground. It could be a capability that doesn't require any significant number of troops on the ground.

"So, I prefer to think about capabilities. And as we look at the geography of the campaign as we extend operations across Iraq and into Syria, yes, there is a good potential that we will need additional capabilities, additional forces to provide those capabilities. And we're looking at the right mix and we see in consultation with the government of Iraq and our other partners.

"So, I don't want to get too much into what those precise capabilities would be because, you know, I'd like the enemy to find out about it for the first time when, you know, the area around them is, you know, area around them is going up in smoke," MacFarland said.

Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama announced that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq would end in August 2009.

In June 2014, with the emergence of Islamic State terrorists, he deployed "several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces."

Three months later, he announced that he was sending "an additional 475 servicemembers" to Iraq, but he said they would not have a combat mission. In November 2014, he sent another 1,500 U.S. troops; followed by an additional 450 in June 2015; and then a special operations force in December.

MRC Store