"We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly," Carter told the Armed Services Committee. "Whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground."
Last week, Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler became the first American killed in action when he was mortally wounded in a raid on an ISIS prison. The United States' stepped-up strategy could increase the risk of American combat casualties.
A White House official stressed to CBS news that the administration has no intention of changing its broader counter ISIS mission to train, advise and assist local partners in the fight. Furthermore, the official said there is no intention of engaging in long-term, large-scale combat operations.
In addition to sending a few dozen ground forces into Syria, President Obama has authorized a number of additional steps to fight ISIS, a senior administration official says. Those include deploying A-10s and F-15s to the Incirlik airbase in Turkey, consulting with the Iraqi government on the establishment of a Special Operations Force (SOF) task force to target ISIS leaders, and enhancing the United States' counter-ISIS military assistance to Jordan and Lebanon.
The senior administration official said that the White House has "always been clear that this would be a multi-year campaign, and that continues to be the case."
Furthermore, the official stressed that the United States' is not just responding militarily. The U.S. continues to lead a 65-partner coalition that is working to halt the flow of foreign fighters, constrict ISIS's finances, stabilize liberated communities, and counter ISIS's messaging.
This new step was coordinated with Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Vienna, where he made a diplomatic push for peace in Syria, Margaret Brennan reports. With leaders from nearly 20 nations gathered in Vienna, the Qataris, Saudis and others were informed of the United States' ground presence. However, the Russians have already objected to American troops on Syrian soil without authorization from the Syrian government.
Russia and Iran are two of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's biggest supporters, and the Obama administration reluctantly agreed to bring the Iranians into the discussions for the first time. Both Iran and Russia agreed to go to Vienna to at least talk about a political transition to replace Assad, but there are serious disagreements about when would leave power and whether it would work to the advantage of ISIS if he left too quickly.