Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday at a hearing that the Pentagon is deploying a specialized special operations force that will "over time" conduct raids in Iraq and Syria "to put even more pressure" on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders," Carter told the House Armed Services Committee, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
"That creates a virtuous cycle of better intelligence, which generates more targets, more raids and more momentum," Carter said.
The raids by the "specialized expeditionary targeting force" will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and focus on defending Iraq's borders and building the Iraqi Security Forces' capacity, he added.
"This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria," he said. The force will consist of roughly 200, according to The Daily Beast.
The comments expand on the Pentagon's announcement in October that the U.S. would conduct more raids similar to one conducted in northern Iraq to free Iraqi hostages. A U.S. Delta Force soldier was fatally wounded in that operation.
The Pentagon also announced it would send fewer than 50 special operations forces to Syria.
The creation of a "targeting force" to conduct unilateral raids in Iraq and Syria could also represent a step away from the president's commitment not to have "boots on the ground" fighting the terrorist group.
The White House has argued that deployment of special operations forces is different from large-scale ground combat operations.
The administration, however, has sought to intensify its fight against ISIS in the wake of the terrorist attacks across Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more.
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump attacks Meghan McCain and her family In Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a regular foreign policy critic of the administration, called the deployment a "belated step forward."
McCain and fellow defense hawk Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case MORE (R-S.C.), a presidential candidate, have long called for as many as 10,000 U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria each.
"Today’s announcement is yet another reactive and incremental step, specifically responding to the Paris attacks, in a policy that has allowed the ISIL threat to metastasize to Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere across the globe," McCain said.
McCain also called for a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS, more U.S. advisers, and forward air controllers to call in more precise airstrikes.
But Democratic Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats Democrats struggle to sell Biden plan amid feuding MORE (Conn.) said sending more forces "is a mistake."
"Though tempting to try to make up the inadequacies of local forces with superior U.S. personnel, the slow build-up of U.S. combat soldiers inside Syria and Iraq risks repeating the mistake of the Iraq War — believing that extremism can be defeated by U.S. troops absent local political and military capacity," he said in a statement.
"We cannot defeat ISIS without the commitment of the local forces and populations that live next to them, and we cannot win this fight for them," said the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism.
—Updated at 5:25 p.m.