The U.S. special operation forces headed to Iraq won’t be sitting on the sidelines in the fight against ISIS — they’ll be in combat, a top military official said Wednesday.
“A raid is a combat operation, there’s no way around that,” said Colonel Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. “So yeah, more Americans will be coming here to Iraq and some of them will be conducting raids inside of both Iraq and Syria.”
Warren said the U.S. forces taking on the militants are a “small number of highly skilled commandos” who will be helping to direct surgical strikes that will be both precise and limited in scope.
The missions will be “exceptionally well-planned” and “very well-targeted,” Warren said.
Warren said the new force will add about 100 U.S. military service members to the roughly 3,500 already in Iraq, thus "raising the force cap."
The number of commandos who will actually be in a position to kill ISIS fighters will number just in the double digits, Warren said. The role of the rest is to provide mission support.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the deployment on Tuesday during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.
Earlier, NBC News reported that the force would be permanently based in Iraq and consist of 100 to 150 special operations forces that would conduct ground combat raids against ISIS targets in both Iraq and Syria.
In coordination with Iraqi or Kurdish forces, they would gather intelligence, free hostages, kill or capture ISIS leaders.
Carter said the U.S. special ops would consult Baghdad but would not be required to given the Iraqi government advance notice that an operation was underway.
President Obama, who was elected on the promise of getting U.S. forces out of the Iraq, has been reluctant to send troops back to the country to combat ISIS. He has been under pressure from Republicans to take a stronger stand against a fanatical group that has captured large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory and declared a caliphate.
On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of that chamber's Armed Services committee, characterized the administration's approach as "incremental".
"We don't have a strategy. What we're doing, what this administration is doing, is incrementally adding capabilities and in reaction to ISIS activities. Rather than taking the initiative and developing the overall strategy," McCain told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.