A day after the head of the Pentagon promised more “direct action on the ground” in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Iraqi government is saying it didn’t ask for that type of help.
"This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the U.S. Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations," Sa'ad al-Hadithi, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, told NBC News on Wednesday. "We have enough soldiers on the ground."
He added that U.S. support arming and training Iraqi forces is still needed. But any ground operations need to be cleared by the Iraqi government, just like the U.S.-led airstrikes, he said.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter outlined a retooled strategy in the fight against ISIS. Among the new approaches is a willingness to conduct more raids, either to support partners or unilaterally.
“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, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.
Last week, U.S. special operations forces supported Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on a raid to rescue Iraqi hostages. During that raid, a U.S. soldier was shot and killed, the first U.S. combat death in the fight against ISIS.
U.S. officials have said the support was given at the request of the Kurds and that the prisoners faced imminent execution.