The US would deploy advisers and attack helicopters if requested by Iraq to retake the city of Ramadi from fighters with the 'Islamic State' group, according to Defense Secretary Ash Carter. IS captured the city in May.
Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said it had taken a "frustratingly long time" for Iraqi security forces to claw back territory from fighters with the "Islamic State" (IS) group. Carter said that the United States was "at war" with IS.
In a further sign that the US is prepared to intensify its military campaign against IS, Carter said "The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi Army with additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers, if circumstances dictate and if requested by Prime Minister Abadi," Carter said.
The provincial capital, 120 kilometers to the west of the capital Baghad, was seized by IS fighters in May.
Carter also pointed out that there had been gains against IS in the last 24 hours, including recapturing the Anbar Operations Center on the northern bank of the Euphrates River.
Carter acknowledged that the "Sunni Arab combined force" discussed at a Camp David summit in the spring "has not materilized," but suggested Sunni forces could work at "enabling local forces."
The Republican chairman of the committee, Senator John McCain called for more US troops to be sent to limit IS. "There are 20,000 to 30,000 of them. They are not giants. Somebody is going to have to convince me that air power alone" is going to do the job, McCain said.
White House caution
Later on Wednesday, the White House cautioned that President Barack Obama had not yet approved the use of the helicopters and that the Iraqi prime minister would have to request the support:
"Any decision like this would only come at the request of Prime Minister Abadi, and after explicit sign-off from the president of the United States," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "And that sign-off has not been given at this point."
Earnest added that Iraqi forces were making "modest progress" on their own in retaking the city.
Obama is coming under increased pressure to act against IS in Iraq and Syria in the wake of last week's attack on a Christmas party in California last week and last month's attacks in Paris. Both were linked to IS.
jm/bw (Reuters, AP)