Ashton Carter opens door to U.S. ground support for Iraqi forces in Ramadi

By Tom LoBianco, Barbara Starr and Jamie Crawford, CNN
Updated 11:35 AM ET, Wed December 9, 2015 |


Washington (CNN)Defense Secretary Ashton Carter raised the prospect Wednesday that U.S. military advisers could accompany Iraqi forces on the ground to try to take back the Iraqi town of Ramadi from ISIS.

His pronouncement came during a Capitol Hill hearing in which he defended President Barack Obama’s ISIS strategy, even as he acknowledged that the organization hadn’t been contained — something the President said had been achieved last month.

Still, Carter said that U.S.-backed forces were making progress against ISIS, also known as ISIL.

“I think that we are building momentum against ISIL,” Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee. His comment followed his agreement with an assessment from the committee chairman, Arizona Republican John McCain, that the terrorist group hadn’t been contained.

A U.S. official told CNN that any advisers accompanying Iraqi forces would likely stay back from the front line of combat.

In his comments, Carter said the United States was prepared to assist the Iraqi army with additional firepower to wrest Ramadi from ISIS control, including the provision of attack helicopters as well as the advisers.

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A U.S. official told CNN those helicopters would likely be Apaches. On Tuesday, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi Security Forces have taken back 60% of Ramadi from ISIS. A U.S. official who spoke to CNN, however, disagreed with that assessment, saying, “they have made some progress, but not that much.”

Carter’s pitch to lawmakers came a few days after Obama delivered a prime time address looking to reassure Americans that his plan for ISIS is working. Carter largely recounted the administration’s efforts so far, but he also asked lawmakers to release $116 million in funding for U.S.-backed forces.

His testimony Wednesday came as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said that U.S. allies are close to sending their own special forces to the region to aid in the fight against ISIS.

“Although I can’t talk to you about the countries right now, because we are still in the process of discussing with them, we have a number of other countries that we are working with right now to provide additional special operations in Syria and Iraq,” Dunford told U.S. forces in Bahrain Monday during a USO tour of military facilities before the holidays.

Dunford’s comments were first reported by Stars and Stripes.

A U.S. official told CNN the U.S. would like to see special operations forces from the United Kingdom and France take part in the battle against ISIS.