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Obama to Confer with Commanders on Intensifying Fight against ISIS

Pentagon. Photo by Tia Dufour/USMC

President Barack Obama and his National Security Council will make a rare trip to the Pentagon on Monday to confer with top commanders on intensifying the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria -- talks could involve deploying more troops and sending attack helicopters into the fight.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declined to go into detail on Friday but noted that Obama has pressed the military "to continue to come to him with proposals and ways we can strengthen the campaign." The secretary said the U.S. "would be doing more in coming weeks. That's what President Obama has asked us to do."

Carter has spoken openly in Senate testimony and at Pentagon briefings recently on the potential for more U.S. troops being deployed to Iraq to complement the 3,500-plus already there in more aggressive ways. They might take the training and advisory role to which they have been limited to the frontlines, where they could also be employed to call in airstrikes.

Obama "has shown a willingness to increase that number," Carter said of the U.S. troops in Iraq, and more could come "as we develop opportunities to make good use of them."

The secretary has also recently spoken of his willingness to have AH-64 Apache attack helicopters assist the Iraqi Security Forces in taking back territory from ISIS if requested by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Baghdad, said Thursday that the U.S. has yet to receive a request for Apaches from Abadi.

At a confrontational Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this week, Carter and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were pressed by senators from both sides of the aisle on why the U.S. has thus far rejected proposals from Turkey and other allies for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria and the creation of a "safe zone" for refugees.

Carter said both proposals would involve the deployment of more U.S. troops and risk confrontation in the air with warplanes of Syria and Russia.

At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of Obama's Pentagon visit, "You're going to receive an update from the president's national security team on the campaign to degrade and destroy that terrorist organization."

"The president has tasked his team with constantly assessing the performance of different aspects of our strategy," the press secretary said.

Earnest warned against expecting specific announcements but Carter said there could be several, including new initiatives on protecting the homeland against terror attacks.

Obama has been under pressure to revise tactics and allow more involvement for U.S. troops against ISIS since the ISIS-inspired terror attacks in San Bernardino, California. The shooting resulted in the deaths of 14 people and injured more.

"We have to do what we have to do to protect our homeland and defeat" ISIS, Carter said at a news conference with visiting British Defense Minister Michael Fallon, who was recently authorized by the British Parliament to have British warplanes launch strikes into Syria for the first time.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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