Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday the U.S. military would step up action to counter the Islamic State through a strategy involving more airstrikes and commando raids.
Notably, the secretary said the military action would steer clear of the Russian buildup backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Carter said that the strategy involved "three Rs," for "Raqaa, Ramadi and Raids."
He said that the U.S. would boost support for the Syrian-Arab coalition and Syrian Kurdish forces pressing south from the Turkish border on the eastern Syrian town of Raqaa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
The U.S. will also increase the training of Sunni tribal fighters in Iraq's Anbar province to join in efforts by the Iraqi Security Forces to retake the flashpoint town of Ramadi, from which Iraqi forces fled in May against ISIS attack, Carter said.
"The third and final 'R' is raids, signaling that we won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," he said.
Carter pointed to the helicopter assault last week to free ISIS hostages in northern Iraq by a combined Kurdish-U.S. force in which Delta Force Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed, and said similar actions could be expected in the future.
"While our mission in Iraq is to train, advise, and assist our Iraqi partners, in situations such as that operation -- where we have actionable intelligence and a capable partner force -- we want to support our partners," Carter said.
Senators from both sides of the aisle ripped Carter for failing to back a safe zone in Syria for refugees fleeing Russian airstrikes and the barrel bombs from Assad's helicopters.
However, Carter said that "consistent with our strong and balanced approach toward Russian aggression elsewhere in the world, including NATO and Ukraine, we will keep the door open for Russia to contribute to efforts toward a political solution, which in the final analysis is the only answer to the Syrian conflict."
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.