US offensive against the EI: “direct action on the ground”

secretaire-americain-defense-ashton-carterThe US administration intends to intensify its offensive against the Islamic State Group (EI) in Iraq and Syria and promises to use as needed its own ground forces to achieve its ends.

In a speech before a Senate committee Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, said his country could conduct himself “direct action on the ground” against targets of interest.

He noted also that the United States intended to increase the frequency and intensity of air strikes against the extremist organization with the addition of devices.

Mr. Carter did not specify the extent of the deployment of ground troops envisaged nor the nature of the troops in question.

The announcement comes a week after a US soldier was killed during an offensive in northern Iraq to free hostages in IE that were apparently about to be executed.

The Pentagon had indicated that the presence of US troops to Iraqi troops sides was due to the “unique circumstances” of the intervention and did not represent a break with the strategy announced last year by President Barack Obama.

The Head of State had said, launching the air campaign against the EI, he was not about to send in ground troops on the frontline.

Henri Barkey, a specialist in Middle East linked to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, did not think the United States will send regular soldiers.

Special forces

The strategy is rather to increase the presence of special forces that will provide support to Kurdish fighters and allied militias that are fighting in the front row.

The intensification of the US action was planned, according to Mr. Barkey for months. “The United States has transferred to bases in Turkey significant amounts of equipment and materials, as well as special forces” in order to increase their military effort against the IE.

The US Defense Secretary said that the recovery of the city of Ramadi, Iraq, and that of the city of Raqqa, Syria, are now priorities.

The situation in Ramadi is complicated by the fact that the United States must focus on very unpopular Shiite militias with the locals.

The offensive against Raqqa, considered a stronghold of IE, looks particularly difficult.

“It’ll be bloody. It is a city with a large civilian population. Members of IE will hide in houses, place explosives traps, launch suicide attacks, “says Barkey.

It is expected that the Syrian Kurds, who have already crossed swords with the extremist organization to regain control of the town of Ayn al-Arab, leading the charge at such an offensive with the support of US forces.

Diplomacy

The US government announcement comes amid intense diplomatic activities.

A summit is scheduled tomorrow in Vienna to discuss the Syrian conflict and explore output tracks of crisis. Iran, which economically and militarily supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad, will present at the negotiations for the first time. Russia, which recently launched a bombing campaign in support of the plan, will also attend the summit.

Mokhtar Lamani, a career diplomat who was stationed in Iraq and Syria, is pessimistic about the chances of reconciliation between Assad and the many rebel groups fighting his regime.

The extreme fragmentation of the Syrian society, he said, greatly complicates the search for a peaceful solution.

The same difficulty exists in Iraq, where sectarian tensions have contributed to the emergence of EI remain extremely vivid, notes Mr. Lamani.

According to him, the aims of regional and international actors who are active in these crises remain too divergent to allow hope for peace.

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