Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged Wednesday that Special Operations forces inside northern Syria are to gather intelligence on the ground by talking with local forces and people in the region.
The Obama administration has acknowledged it is sending up to 50 Special Operations forces to secret locations in the war-ravaged Middle East nation.
They will do more than just take “direct action,” or go on raids, Carter told reporters while traveling to Paris for a meeting of ministers on the strategy to fight ISIS.
“The really valuable thing we get from their being there is that connection to local forces that are willing to take action,” Carter said, making some of his most extensive comments to date about the troops’ deployment.
“We learn about them and interact with them. We collect valuable intelligence that informs the air campaign — valuable intelligence about how ISIL is preying upon the people, taxing the people and so forth that helps us with our — the economic aspects of our campaign, the counter-financing, the counter-messaging parts of our campaign,” Carter added, using another term for ISIS.
“It is a keyhole through which one gets a lot of insight, and thereby allows us more effectively to bring the huge weight of coalition military power to bear on the battlefield in an effective way,” he added.
Special Operations forces have long focused on more than just raids and killing terrorists. With language and cultural skills, they are often on the front line of dealing with indigenous forces in combat zones. The Pentagon has said these U.S. troops will also continue to go on raids and may kill or capture top ISIS leaders. It’s not clear, however, where those captured could be held, under what conditions, and how they would be interrogated.