New Special Ops 'Targeting Force' Combatting ISIS May Have Fewer Than 100 Service Members

PHOTO: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., right, accompanied by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 1, 2015.PlayAndrew Harnik/AP Photo
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The “Expeditionary Targeting Force” to combat ISIS, first announced by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Tuesday, will likely number less than 100, U.S. officials said today.

The deployment of the force to Iraq will require raising the current authorized troop cap of 3,550 by 100 more personnel, U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren told Pentagon reporters today, speaking from Baghdad.

The majority the new Expeditionary Targeting Force will consist of enablers and other personnel who will support the “very small number” of “trigger-pullers," Warren said, noting that the targeting force will conduct raids, focusing on high-value targets, flowing between both sides of the border between Iraq and Syria.

“Because that's a lot of times who's either directing the cross-border operations or who's physically going across the borders,” Warren said, adding that the raids will “contribute to strengthening that border, reducing that porousness” of ISIS leaders.

Warren emphasized that the new force will partner with Iraqi and Kurdish forces inside Iraq to conduct raids in consultation with the Iraqi government. Based in Iraq, the force will conduct unilateral raids inside Syria to capture high-value ISIS targets who could provide useful intelligence for future raids, he said.

The raids this force will conduct are indeed “combat operations,” Warren acknowledged, but insisted they do not indicate “mission creep." He also made the point that they should not be equated with the major ground combat operations like the 2003 invasion of Iraq or the large troop presence that followed.

Warren cited a record number of munitions drops by the coalition as another indicator of the growing pressure on ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In November, 85 percent of coalition aircraft dropped at least one munition, up from 60 percent in October and 50 percent in July and August.

He attributed the increase in airdrops to “greater intelligence,” noting that “our capability to develop targets has increased as our intelligence has gotten better,” which contributes to more planned daily strikes.

Munition drops in so-called “dynamic strikes” have also gone up, with increased ground operations against ISIS by Iraqi security forces and moderate Syrian rebel forces in eastern Syria, Warren said.

Ground fighting “forces the enemy to pop its head up, and when the enemy moves and pops his head up, guess what? U.S. coalition air power is there to deliver devastating effects and quick death,” Warren said.