The U.S. National Guard's cyber unit may join the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.
"Units like this can also participate in offensive cyber operations of the kind that I have stressed we are conducting, and actually accelerating, in Iraq and Syria, to secure the prompt defeat of ISIL, which we need to do and will do," Carter said, using an acronym for the group.
"We're looking for ways to accelerate that, and cyber is one of them," he added.
Carter visited the National Guard Cyber Unit at its base Friday in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington. He noted the squadron was not currently engaging in offensive cybermissions.
But the defense secretary said in the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State group, there is a need to “make it clear that there is no such thing as a state that is based on that ideology.”
As part of that effort, Carter said he would not rule out cyber operations to work on an offensive strategy to try to disrupt the Internet outreach operations of the militant group.
Since it was formed back in the late 1990s, the cyber unit has focused solely on defensive cybersecurity efforts, National Guard officials told the Seattle Times newspaper.
The National Guard's cyber unit is a 101-person team of part-time soldiers, most of whom have full-time jobs in the tech industry at companies such as Microsoft and Google.
“Using National Guard units for such work made sense because it allowed the military to benefit from private sector cyber experts,” Carter said.
"It brings in the high-tech sector in a very direct way to the mission of protecting the country," he added, "And we're absolutely going to do more of it."
The U.S. National Guard is a reserve military force, composed of military units of each state, the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
The majority of its soldiers and airmen hold civilian jobs full time while serving part time as National Guard members.