US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter commented to the press, saying that the Defense Department is quickly adapting to fighting ISIL (ISIS / Daesh). Carter urged the international community to step up the pace of its contributions.
The additional US troops shall support Iraqi – Kurdish Pershmerga fighters but can, according to the Defense Department also be used for unilateral operations to fight ISIS in Syria.
Neither the White House nor the Defense Department (DoD) has explained on what basis in international law US troops should be able to legally operate in Syria. Several members of the US Senate criticized the White House for overstepping its war powers while the administration is using semantics to claim that the US is not involved in a "war”.
Carter and Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the U.S.’s strategy for Syria and Iraq. Carter told the Committee members that:
"The president had directed us to intensify and adapt the military campaign before the [Nov. 13] Paris attacks. … We continue to accelerate our efforts in the wake of Paris, and we are urging others to do the same, because those attacks further highlighted the stake that not just the United States, but the world, has in this fight.”
Non of the members of the armed services committee asked questions about the international legal grounds on which U.S.troops could legally operate in Syria. Several analysts commented that the presence of U.S. troops, especially in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ez-Zor could complicate Russian air strikes against the joint ISIS, Peshmerga, Turkish oil smuggling operation.
Carter for his part, claimed that specific elements of the adaptations to ISIL include deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force, expanding U.S. attacks on ISIL infrastructure and revenue sources, improving ways to find and eliminate ISIL leadership, and organizing a new way to leverage established infrastructure. Carter added:
"On President [Barack] Obama’s orders and the chairman’s and my advice, we’re sending special operations forces personnel to Syria to support the fight against ISIL.”
The reinforcement will be a special operations expeditionary force, said Carter, adding that:
"These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders. … That creates a virtuous cycle of better intelligence, which generates more targets, more raids and more momentum.”
Carter claimed that the Defense Department would also significantly step up combating ISIL’s oil revenue infrastructure and oil revenue sources. Ironically, it is ISIL that is smuggling Syrian oil to northern Iraq, from where it is transported via Turkey to Europe and other destinations.
Several analysts have stressed that the USA instrumentalizes ISIL within the context of a strategy of cooperative antagonism that ultimately aims at carving out a Kurdish State from Iraq. With regard to operations in Syria it is noteworthy that international law only prescribes two options. The first would be operations on the invitation of the Syrian government. The other would be based on a unanimous Security Council resolution. While the United States is calling for a "broad coalition” it has thus far not reached an agreement with Russia, that could create the foundation for a legal international coalition that could operate in Syria.