Saturday, October 24, 2015

U.S. Sees Beefed Up Mission in Iraq and Syria

So much for winding down those wars, Democrats.

At WSJ, "U.S. to Increase Raids Against Islamic State":
WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Ash Carter signaled a new and more muscular policy in Iraq and Syria, saying the U.S. military would mount more raids and provide more active support to groups, including Kurdish fighters, who can counter Islamic State.

A day after a dramatic, joint rescue with Kurdish forces near Kirkuk resulted in the first American combat death in Iraq since 2011, Mr. Carter on Friday said there would be more such operations. He also said Americans should gird for a dangerous, complicated fight, but expressed confidence the U.S. would ultimately win.

President Barack Obama has been publicly cautious in his policy against Islamic State, repeatedly saying that American troops wouldn’t participate in combat missions as they battle the extremists across Iraq and Syria.

But while Mr. Carter expressed sorrow for the loss of Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler in Thursday’s raid, he indicated the beginning of a deeper, more assertive role for American forces there.

“There will be more raids,” Mr. Carter said at the Pentagon. American forces, he said, “will be in harm’s way, there’s no question about it, and I don’t want anybody to be under any illusions about that.”

The U.S. move is designed in part to blunt criticism of White House policy from Capitol Hill, where Mr. Carter and Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will appear next week.

The U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against Islamic State also has faced criticism from some allies, while Russia has expanded its engagement across the Middle East. On Friday Moscow announced an agreement with Jordan, a key U.S. ally, to coordinate military operations in Syria.

Some Iraqi Shiite politicians have invited Moscow to start airstrikes in Iraq as well, although U.S. officials insist they have been assured that Iraq’s leaders don't plan to pursue such plans.

The pledge to step up U.S. participation in military raids against Islamic State also comes as U.S. confidence in its Iraqi partners grows, particularly in Kurdish military units. Gen. Dunford, after visiting Iraq this past week, said it was time to begin to “open the aperture” in military operations there.

“To me, it’s all about capabilities,” he said Tuesday. “It may be as simple as methods and timing, and then it might be different ways of doing what we’re doing.”

Military officials didn’t spell out precisely how the U.S. role in Iraq would change. But Mr. Carter said there would be more operations like the one he authorized this week, in which U.S. special-operations forces teamed with Kurdish units known as Peshmerga to rescue Islamic State prisoners.

The plan, U.S. officials said, was to have the Kurdish forces lead the operation, with American forces providing airlift, airstrike support, intelligence and battlefield advice.

The operation took an unexpected turn, however, when Islamic State militants guarding the prison near Hawija, Iraq, fought back and the Kurdish force became pinned down.

Members of the American unit jumped off their helicopters and entered the fray, resulting in the death of Sgt. Wheeler.

In the end, the joint force didn’t find the Peshmerga captives they went in to get, but rescued 70 other prisoners who were to be executed, U.S. officials said, and killed 15 Islamic State fighters.,,