Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday described new ways the U.S. military plans to increase pressure on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after months of criticism that the administration is not doing enough to defeat the terrorist group.
"The changes we're pursuing can be described by what I call the 'three R's' — Raqqa, Ramadi and Raids," Carter testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The secretary also said he hopes to pursue the new approach of equipping the Syrian Arab Coalition, which consists of about a dozen groups, versus the halted Pentagon program to train and equip a force of 15,000 rebels over three years.
"While the old approach was to train and equip completely new forces outside of Syria before sending them into the fight, the new approach is to work with vetted leaders of groups that are already fighting ISIL and provide equipment and some training to them and support their operations with airpower," he said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
He also said the coalition expects to intensify its air campaign with additional U.S. and coalition aircraft and to target ISIS with a higher and heavier rate of strikes.
"This will include more strikes against ISIL high-value targets as our intelligence improves and also its oil enterprise, which is a critical pillar of ISIL’s financial infrastructure," Carter said.
Second, Carter said "Ramadi" represents an example of cooperation with Iraqi forces and Sunni tribes to retake and hold ground from ISIS.
Coalition and Iraqi forces have been working to retake the provincial capital back from ISIS and eventually go northward to Mosul.
"As we see more progress toward assembling capable and motivated Iraqi forces under Baghdad’s control and including Sunni elements, we are willing to continue providing more enabling capabilities and fire support to help our Iraqi partners succeed," Carter said.
But Carter warned that Baghdad would have to make sure the Shia-dominated government and security forces distribute weapons to Sunni tribes and that its forces are paid regularly.
Carter said the third "R" — raids — represents a new willingness to conduct more raids to support partners or unilaterally. Last week, U.S. special operations forces supported Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on a raid to rescue Iraqi hostages during which a U.S. soldier was killed. Carter had said on Friday he expected more such raids.
"We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," he said.
Carter also pushed back against the idea that the U.S. and Russia were cooperating in Syria.
Although the two sides signed a document to avoid mid-air collisions over Syria, it does not represent cooperation and would not affect U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, he said.
At the same time, he said the U.S. would "keep the door open for Russia to contribute to efforts toward a political solution, which in the final analysis is the only answer to the Syrian conflict."