Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said on Tuesday that American troops could potentially be deployed into Syria and Iraq to fight Daesh, if needed.
“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,” Ashton Carter told a Senate Armed Service Committee.
The possible change in strategy was described by Carter as “three Rs” – “Raqqa, Ramadi and Raids”.
Raqqa is a stronghold and the self-declared capital of Daesh and is located in northeastern Syria while Ramadi is a major Iraqi city that fell under the group's control last May. The fall of Ramadi was described by US president Barack Obama as a "strategic failure."
"We will support moderate Syrian forces fighting ISIL [Daesh] that have made territorial gains near Raqqa – indeed, some of them are within 30 miles of Raqqa today," Carter said.
Carter said that 50 tons (45 metric tons) of US ammunition dropped in northern Syria for Syrian Arab Coalition forces to use would help in fighting Daesh on the ground.
"In Ramadi – the second “R” in the strategy – the US will give more help to Iraqi forces that have intensified attacks against Daesh," said Carter.
"As we see more progress toward assembling capable and motivated Iraqi forces under Baghdad’s control and including Sunni elements, we are willing to continue providing more enabling capabilities and fire support to help our Iraqi partners succeed," he said.
Carter also warned the Iraqi government against going the route of "multi-sectarian governance and defense leadership."
The US continues to train and equip Sunni tribes against the terror group. "If local Sunni forces aren’t sufficiently equipped, regularly paid, and empowered as co-equal members of the Iraqi Security Forces, ISIL’s defeats in Anbar will only be temporary," he warned.
With regarding the third R, "Raids," Carter said US forces will take ground action against the militants when necessary.
"While our mission in Iraq is to train, advise, and assist our Iraqi partners, in situations such as that operation – where we have actionable intelligence and a capable partner force – we want to support our partners," he said.
An anonymous US military official told Reuters on Tuesday that the US may consider sending a small number of special operations forces to Syria and attack helicopters to Iraq.
The Obama administration is under pressure to ramp up US efforts in the fight against Daesh since the train and equip program failed last month.
Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing he would consider recommending sending more US forces to help Iraqi troops fight against Daesh if this would improve the chances of defeating the militants.
"If it had operational or strategic impact and we could reinforce success, that would be the basic framework within which I'd make a recommendation for additional forces to be co-located with Iraqi units," Dunford said, without elaborating.
Russian response to proposals for greater US involvement
The head of Russia’s parliamentary committee told RT that the result of potential US ground operations in Syria would be unpredictable.
"If there ...[is] any evidence ...[it] should be presented and Russia is definitely open to making further investigations,” Chairman of the Russian Upper House committee for foreign affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, told Russia Today, while on a visit to Washington.“But there is no evidence [that has been] presented by the military experts to the Russian military experts."
"Any operations – air based operations, ground based operations – in Syria by American forces will be illegal," Kosachev told RT, saying that Washington has not been invited to intervene by Assad, unlike Russia.
"They will get trapped, they will get involved in this ongoing conflict and the consequences will be absolutely unpredictable," Kosachev said.