WASHINGTON – In a major reversal for the US military, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Tuesday that the Pentagon will begin “direct action on the ground” in Iraq and Syria, in an effort to the combat the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group.
Last week, US forces conducted a rescue operation in northern Iraq. Working alongside Kurdish forces, the maneuver led to the freeing of hostages being held by IS. Curiously, the Pentagon insisted that the mission “represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission,” and should in no way be thought of as US boots on the grounds.
But speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Carter indicated that not only would be US forces be deployed in Iraq to fight the terrorist group, but also in Syria.
“We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground,” he said.
Responding to the rescue op last week, Carter said that continued missions in the region could mean that American soldiers “will be in harm’s way, no question about it,” telling NBC News that “this is combat and things are complicated.”
On Tuesday, the defense secretary also acknowledged that Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a US commando involved in the IS raid, was “killed in combat.”