Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Pentagon deploying task force to fight ISIS

THE TOPLINE: Pentagon chief Ash Carter announced Tuesday that the U.S. military would deploy a “specialized expeditionary task force” that would eventually conduct raids in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State.

“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 the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

“That creates a virtuous cycle of better intelligence, which generates more targets, more raids and more momentum,” Carter said. 

{mosads}Raids in Iraq would be at the request of the Iraqi government, but they could also take place in Syria.

“That’s a force that wouldn’t be on the ground all the time in Syria. It would go in, conduct raids, and go out,” Carter added.

The new force would be compromised of U.S. special operators only, or with local partners, such as Kurdish Peshmerga, Carter said.

The U.S. currently has about 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and fewer than 50 special operations forces in Syria, according to defense officials.

The new targeting force is just one way the Pentagon is intensifying military efforts against ISIS in recent weeks.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a foreign policy critic of the administration, called the deployment a “belated step forward.”

“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.

But Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (D-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. 

JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: ISIS ‘NOT CONTAINED’: The United States has “not contained” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the nation’s top military officer said Tuesday, contradicting President Obama’s remarks last month about the terror group.

“We have not contained” ISIS, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. It was his second hearing since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September.

The comment runs counter to what the president said days before ISIS launched a string of attacks across Paris.

“I don’t think they’re gaining strength,” Obama had said to ABC News. “What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them.”

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, later said the president’s remarks applied specifically to Iraq and Syria.

Dunford said ISIS has been “tactically” contained in areas they have been in since 2010 but added, “strategically they have spread since 2010.”

His remarks were in response to questioning by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) on whether ISIS has been contained at any time since 2010. 

Dunford added that ISIS posed a threat beyond Iraq and Syria to countries such as Egypt, Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan.

ANALYSIS SHOWS ‘UNPRECEDENTED’ US SUPPORT FOR ISIS: An academic report released Tuesday said that American support for radical Islamism has reached “unprecedented” levels.

“What we do see in the United States is an unprecedented mobilization” that is “bigger than any other mobilization we have seen since 9/11,” Lorenzo Vidino, the director of George Washington University’s program on extremism, said during an event releasing the report.

The report found that the types of Americans drawn to ISIS vary widely in terms of race, age, education and family background. Yet they are largely all united by their use of social media, which ISIS has been able to master as its reach has grown.

FBI Director James Comey has said that federal officials have launched ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states.

Obama, who is in Paris for talks on an international climate change agreement, has also used the trip to meet with world leaders about the threat from ISIS.

FIGHT OVER SYRIAN REFUGEES: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that a battle over taking in Syrian refugees will probably find its way into government funding legislation currently being considered.

“I think the refugee issue is likely to be dealt with in some way in the omnibus,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters when asked if the House-passed bill halting incoming refugees or changes to the Visa Waiver Program could be included in the spending bill.

The potential move comes after Senate Democrats threatened to block the chamber from taking up a House-passed bill that would require the administration to certify that Syrian and Iraqi refugees aren’t a threat to national security.

The move could complicate a Republican pledge to avoid a government shutdown ahead of the Dec. 11 deadline to pass spending legislation. While the push to “pause” the acceptance of refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks gained the support of dozens of House Democrats, it’s largely divided lawmakers along partisan lines in the upper chamber.

Meanwhile, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would add new security measures for foreign travelers coming to the United States through a special tourist program.

The bill is seen as an attempt to move away from the House’s efforts to block the Obama administration’s plans for Syrian refugees, and offer a window of compromise to shore up U.S. defenses following the terrorist attacks across Paris last month. 

NATO TO KEEP 12K TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN: NATO leaders have agreed to keep 12,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2016 to support the U.S.-led mission there, the alliance announced Tuesday.

The decision comes after President Obama announced in October that the United States would keep 9,800 U.S. troops there for most of 2016 before drawing down to 5,500 the following year.

Combat operations officially ended in 2014, though U.S. and NATO troops remain in the country to train and advise Afghan military forces.

The announcement on Afghanistan came during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. The ministers are also expected to discuss issues facing NATO, including Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet it said violated its airspace, as well as Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

“The security environment in which we meet today is dark,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday at a press conference to start the meeting. “Terrorist attacks, violent instability, the breach of international rules. These are serious challenges from many different directions. And NATO is responding.”


— FBI chief is wild card for Clinton

— Syrian refugees bill could be inserted in omnibus

— Obama says he’ll fight Gitmo ‘until my very last day as president’

— Ernst, first female combat vet in Senate, retires from military

— US Marine convicted of homicide in Philippines

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com 

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@kristina_wong@Rebecca_H_K


Tags Chris Murphy Dianne Feinstein Jeff Flake John McCain Mitch McConnell Randy Forbes

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