WASHINGTON: The United States is prepared to deploy advisers and attack helicopters if requested by Iraq to help it “finish the job” of retaking the city of Ramadi from Islamic State, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday.
Carter’s remarks were the latest sign of US preparations to intensify its military campaign against the group, which controls wide swathes of Iraq and Syria and has orchestrated and inspired attacks abroad.
The militants Islamic State group (IS) captured Ramadi, a provincial capital just a short drive west of Baghdad, in May in its biggest conquest since last year, and retaking it would be a major victory for Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Carter, speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, said it has taken a “frustratingly long time” for Iraqi security forces to claw back territory.
But he pointed to significant gains, including recapturing the Anbar Operations Center on the northern bank of the Euphrates River in the past 24 hours.
“The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi Army with additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers, if circumstances dictate and if requested by Prime Minister Abadi,” Carter said.
A US defence official said the US advisors would be prepared to help the Iraqi security forces by providing advice on how to move through the center of Ramadi over the next several weeks.
For President Barack Obama, who has spent much of his time in office pulling US troops out of wars he inherited and who is deeply averse to being dragged into another Middle East ground war, deployment of advisors and use of attack helicopters are both examples of an increased willingness to expose US troops to risk.
Obama is under mounting pressure to escalate America’s military role in Iraq and Syria, particularly after the Nov 13 assaults in Paris that killed 130 people, claimed by Islamic State, and last week’s paramilitary-style attack in California by a couple believed by authorities to have been inspired by Islamist militancy.
“These attacks make it clear that ISIL’s threat against our homeland is real, direct, and growing, that we are not winning this war and that time is not on our side,” said Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate committee.
The United States last week announced plans to deploy elite American military teams to Iraq to conduct raids against Islamic State there and in neighboring Syria. That followed an October announcement that it would send dozens of special operations forces to Syria to coordinate with local rebels.
Carter told the Senate hearing that he was in touch with coalition partners to ask them to contribute special operations forces. The United States also sought other capabilities, like strike and spy aircraft, weapons and munitions.
But he expressed frustration with Arab allies, who he believed could make additional contributions in the effort against (IS).
“I too wish that particularly the Sunni Arab nations of the Gulf would do more,” Carter said.