Washington, DC…The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant wants the United States to be “impetuous right now, as opposed to being aggressive,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the House Armed Services Committee today. ISIL “would love nothing more than a large presence of U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, so that they could have a call to jihad,” Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told lawmakers during testimony with Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Dunford said the current anti-ISIL strategy is showing progress. The United States, he said, needs to stick with airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria and with developing forces on the ground to take and retain territory from the terror group, while coalition and local forces will increase pressure against ISIL across the region.
The chairman also discussed a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” that will deploy to the region to assist Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces against ISIL. These American special operators will conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture or kill ISIL leaders.
Carter said the force will also be used to conduct unilateral operations in Syria.
Dunford highlighted the force’s capacity for intelligence gathering.
“Our effectiveness is … obviously, inextricably linked to the quality of intelligence we have,” he said. “Our assessment is that this force and the operations this force will conduct will provide us additional intelligence that will make our operations much more effective.”
The force operations, themselves, will be intelligence driven, the general said.
“The enemy doesn’t respect boundaries; neither do we,” he said. “We are fighting a campaign across Iraq and Syria. So we’re going to go where the enemy is and we’re going to conduct operations where they most effectually degrade the capabilities of the enemy.”
There are currently 3,500 U.S. service members in Iraq now. If more forces are needed, the chairman said he wouldn’t “feel at all inhibited about making recommendations that would cause us to grow greater than 3,500.”
The way ahead in Iraq was one of the questions the chairman fielded. Iraqi security forces have been retrained and reconstituted, the chairman said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have driven ISIL out of Beiji. And, Kurdish forces have won a significant victory against ISIL in Sinjar.
Once Ramadi falls, “you are starting to close the noose,” Dunford said.
“We’ve cut the lines of communication at Sinjar between Mosul and Raqqa,” he said. “So Mosul is a future operation. Probably I wouldn’t affix a date to it but probably sometime months from now as opposed to weeks from now we would start to see operations in Mosul.”