Calls for more US commando raids against ISIS

A US Air Force B-1B bomber flying over northern Iraq after carrying out air strikes in Syria. While the coalition has conducted more than 8,000 air strikes against ISIS, the 3,500 US personnel on the ground there have been limited mostly to providing
A US Air Force B-1B bomber flying over northern Iraq after carrying out air strikes in Syria. While the coalition has conducted more than 8,000 air strikes against ISIS, the 3,500 US personnel on the ground there have been limited mostly to providing advice and training.PHOTO: REUTERS

Lawmakers, ex-defence officials say Obama's 'no boots on the ground' strategy insufficient

WASHINGTON • The United States should conduct far more commando raids against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), say lawmakers and former defence officials who are pushing President Barack Obama to deploy special operations forces more aggressively against the extremists.

With the attacks in Paris putting new pressure on Mr Obama to show progress in the stalemated war against terrorists, defence analysts are calling for an intensified campaign of raids to disrupt the group's leadership, gather intelligence and build momentum.

"The goal is to start a chain reaction of intelligence-driven raids that increase in frequency and expand in scope over time," said Mr Robert Martinage, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence for special operations under Mr Obama.

"The metric becomes, can you disrupt and dismantle the network faster than the enemy can repair and regenerate it?"

The model would be the commando raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

The tactics, honed in hundreds of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, were developed by groups such as Task Force 714 in Iraq, which joined the intelligence resources of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency with Navy Seal Team Six and Army Delta Force commandos.

While most such operations remain secret, a rare public sign that special forces units were being used against ISIS came in Syria in May, when Delta Force commandos raided the home of Abu Sayyaf, a top financier for the group. He was killed, and his wife captured, in an operation that produced a treasure-trove of intelligence.

In October, a US special-operations team in northern Iraq helped Kurdish Peshmerga forces free hostages from a prison controlled by the terrorists.

"I expect we will do more of this kind of thing," Defence Secretary Ash Carter said then. He has listed more raids among his priority "three Rs", along with attacking ISIS' stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, and helping to recapture Ra-madi in Iraq.

But so far, the only public sign of expanded operations on the ground has been Mr Obama's decision to send fewer than 50 special-operations personnel to Syria, with instructions to serve as advisers and not engage in raids.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, has said that the effort to defeat ISIS "has gone on too long now", and the administration needs a "larger special-operations plan".

While the coalition has conducted more than 8,000 air strikes against ISIS, dropping almost 29,000 munitions, the 3,500 US personnel on the ground in Iraq have been limited mostly to providing advice and training, because of Mr Obama's pledge that US troops will not engage in "long-term, large-scale combat operations" like those that his predecessor, Mr George W. Bush, ordered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Sinjar and Hawija in Iraq, ISIS fighters have surrounded their positions with dense minefields of IEDs, backed by machine guns, mortars and suicide bombers.

The group's primary focus in Iraq and Syria has been the capture and defence of cities and towns.

It has developed a hybrid style of warfare that combines insurgent and conventional military tactics - vehicles full of explosives used as rolling bombs and trenches similar to those used in World War I.

Those tactics are being put to the test in Ramadi, where an estimated 300-400 fighters for ISIS, and several hundred additional supporters, have squared off against about 10,000 Iraqi troops.

The militant group's ability to construct elaborate defences - and to cover them with sniper, machine gun and mortar fire - has slowed the US-supported campaign.

To help the Iraqis retake the city, the US has provided their forces with armoured bulldozers and special mine-clearing equipment.

BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline 'Calls for more US commando raids against ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe