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SECDEF: Boots On The Ground Needed To Take Back Key ISIS-Held Cities

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter claims we need boots on the ground to take back two key Islamic State-held cities in Iraq and Syria.

Carter notes local forces will certainly be a key part of the strategy in retaking Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, but additional U.S. troops will be a requirement. ISIS considers Raqqa its de facto capital while Mosul is a key city in northern Iraq.

“We’re looking for opportunities to do more and there will be boots on the ground and I want to be clear about that,” Carter said Friday in a CNBC interview in Davos, Switzerland. “We need to destroy them [ISIS] in those two places, and I’d like to get on with that as soon as possible.”

Carter also hinted that the White House’s strategy will involve separating the Iraqi and Syrian fronts, saying raids on key supply routes between Mosul and Raqqa will be a primary focus. “That’ll essentially separate the Iraqi theater from the Syrian theater.”

It is believed there are currently 3,550 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria. These forces are involved in a variety of operations ranging from special forces raids on ISIS targets to general advising of local Iraqi security forces. Carter did not mention if any additional U.S. forces would be added to take back Raqqa and Mosul.

The Obama administration — once vehemently opposed to putting boots on the ground against ISIS — has taken a decidedly different approach since early December when Carter testified to Congress that U.S. forces would conduct “unilateral operations in Syria.”

Carter’s comments Friday come just days before key peace talks regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria in Geneva, Switzerland.

Though Carter was forthcoming regarding the use of U.S. forces to take back Mosul and Raqqa, he also emphasized local forces must play the primary role against ISIS, “it must be local forces who deliver (ISIS) a lasting defeat, because only they can secure and govern the territory by building long-term trust within the populations they liberate.”

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