US ground forces for Syria

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THE US has indicated that it intends the imminent deployment of troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, without holding a vote in Congress.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter told the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday: ‘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.

‘We expect to intensify our air campaign, including with additional US and coalition aircraft, to target ISIL with a higher and heavier rate of strikes,’ he said. ‘This will include more strikes against ISIL high-value targets as our intelligence improves.’

The US currently has 3,500 troops in Iraq who are described as helping to train Iraqi forces and having a limited combat role. Carter said the fight against ISIL will now concentrate mostly on Raqqa, in Syria, and Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq.

He did not divulge the circumstances under which the US might carry out operations on the ground on its own. ‘(But) once we locate them, no target is beyond our reach,’ he said. Carter called the administration’s new strategy the ‘three Rs’ plan.

The first two Rs are Raqqa and Ramadi, cities in Syria and Iraq from which the United States hopes to dislodge the Islamic State, said Carter. To do so, he indicated, the administration will deploy American ground troops to support local forces. The third R stands for ‘raids’, which will be used to capture and kill Islamic State leaders, he added.

The Pentagon continues to call the military campaign in Syria and Iraq an ‘advise and assist’ mission, a characterisation that commentators state was ‘misleading when the campaign began and is now absurd’. There have been warnings that the president is being allowed to go to war without formal authorisation from Congress.

Responding to calls for the establishment of a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, Carter said that it would take significant resources, and troops, to enforce. ‘To keep it safe would require fighting,’ Carter told senators on Tuesday. ‘You need to think in each case … who’s in, who is kept out and how the enforcement of it is done.’

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is to attend international talks on the Syrian crisis being held in Vienna today, a government spokeswoman said yesterday. It will be the first time that Iran – an ally of Syria – has attended such talks. The US said an invitation to the meeting, which will include foreign ministers from the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, had been extended to Iran.