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Defence chief: US expanding special operations force in Iraq

Published 01/12/2015

Defence secretary Ash Carter testifies before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the US strategy for Syria and Iraq (AP)
Defence secretary Ash Carter testifies before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the US strategy for Syria and Iraq (AP)

The US is expanding the special operations force in Iraq to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces fight Islamic State militants, defence secretary Ash Carter has said.

Mr Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that over time, these special operators will be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture IS leaders.

He said that will improve intelligence and generate more targets. He did not offer troop numbers, but said it was being done in cooperation with the Iraqi government.

The defence secretary said the special operators will be focused on defending Iraq's borders and building the capacity of the Iraqi government forces.

He says the forces also will be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria.

Mr Carter said the number in the expeditionary force will be "larger" than 50 but would not be more specific and did not say exactly where they would be based.

He added: "The raids in Iraq will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focused on defending its borders and building the Iraqi security force's own capacity.

"This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria."

There currently are about 3,500 US troops in Iraq, and President Barack Obama had previously announced he was sending fewer than 50 special operations forces to Syria.

Mr Carter said the US is also expanding attacks on the militants' infrastructure and their sources of revenue, particularly from oil.

"Over the past several weeks, because of improved intelligence and understanding of Isil's operations, we've intensified the air campaign against Isil's war-sustaining oil enterprise, a critical pillar of Isil's financial infrastructure," he said.

"In addition to destroying fixed facilities like wells and processing facilities, we've destroyed nearly 400 of Isil's oil tanker trucks, reducing a major source of its daily revenues. There's more to come, too."

General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified alongside Mr Carter, saying that in the past month or so, attacks on IS have disrupted 43% of its revenue stream.

In a later exchange with James Langevin, a Democrat, Mr Carter elaborated on the prospect of using the expanded special operations force in Iraq to conduct raids inside Syria.

"This is an important capability because it takes advantage of what we're good at," Mr Carter said.

"We're good at intelligence, we're good at mobility, we're good at surprise. We have the long reach that no one else has. And it puts everybody on notice in Syria. You don't know at night who's going to be coming in the window. And that's the sensation that we want all of Isil's leadership and followers to have."

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