U.S. mulls expansion of military force in Mideast to battle ISIS – Washington Times

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American and European military leaders are considering options to step up the fight against the Islamic State, including possibly upping the number of U.S. and allied troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria and expanding military operations against the terror group in Libya, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday.

“We are always looking to build momentum in this,” Mr. Carter told reporters during a visit to U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. “As the campaign progresses [in Iraq] and in Syria, and more opportunities are presented to make different kinds of contributions, we’re going to do that,” he said.

Mr. Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford met Tuesday with several of their European counterparts in Germany to discuss the ongoing campaign to quell the spread of the Islamic State — also known as ISIS or ISIL — through Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Mideast.

Mr. Carter did not discuss specifics on how many more U.S. troops could be heading to Iraq and Syria or when those deployments could take place during Tuesday’s briefing with reporters before meeting with European military leaders.

But he did note the upcoming offensive to retake the group’s Iraqi capital of Mosul would be a much larger and more complicated campaign than recent anti-Islamic State operations in the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the country’s volatile Anbar province.

U.S. military officials have estimated the fight for Mosul could require between seven to 10 Iraqi Army brigades or 25,000 troops.

President Obama in April ordered 200 U.S. troops backed by additional American air power and a shipment of heavy weapons to Iraq to support the upcoming Mosul offensive. Between 3,500 to 5,000 U.S. military advisers and special operations forces are already in country, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations against Islamic State targets.

The terror group’s ongoing exploitation of the power vaccum in Libya caused by infighting among the country’s numerous militias after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 is forcing Washington to consider ramping up its military efforts in the country, Mr. Carter said Tuesday.

“We want to be clear, the circumstances that exist there now have caused us to act, and we’ve taken some actions in Libya,” he said.

For the first time in February, Rome gave the Pentagon the green light to begin armed drone strikes against Islamic State targets in Libya and elsewhere in northern Africa from U.S and NATO bases in southern Italy.

U.S. special operations forces have been conducting clandestine counterterrorism missions and training U.S.-backed militias in the country since 2012, according to recent reports.

“If there is a threat against the homeland or U.S. personnel, we’re going to act, and … we’ve passed the threshold for that,” in Libya regarding the Islamic State’s growing influence in the country, Gen. Dunford said.

U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. David Rodriguez has met with members of Libya’s Government of National Accord, the country’s governing body officially recognized by the U.S. and United Nations, “to see what requirements may exist from a security perspective and from an operations perspective” to combat the Islamic State’s encroachment into the country, Gen. Dunford said Tuesday.

“They want assistance … [and] you know that a number of countries, including the United States … are prepared to do that,” the four-star general added.

Neither Mr. Carter nor Gen. Dunford weighed in as to how soon U.S. and European military assistance operations could begin in earnest in Libya.

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U.S. mulls expansion of military force in Mideast to battle ISIS – Washington Times}