The United States says it has "no intention to pursue long-term, large-scale ground combat operations" like in Afghanistan or Iraq, in its stepped-up offensive against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter Tuesday said the change in strategy would include more airstrikes and possible ground assaults.
White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz Wednesday backed up Carter's statement, making clear the United States "retain[s] the ability to conduct limited operations [in Syria] with partners as opportunities allow.”
"We're not talking full-blown attacks or assaults on major cities. We're talking about raids," said Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. "This is not embedding thousands of Americans with thousands or tens of thousands of Iraqis to conduct sustained offensive operations."
‘No target is beyond our reach’
On Tuesday Defense Secretary Carter told a congressional hearing there could be more raids like the one last week in which U.S. troops advised Kurdish forces on the rescue of about 70 hostages in Iraq, even as a U.S. commando was killed.
"We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against [the Islamic State], or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," Carter said.
He did not say under what circumstances the U.S. might engage in ground combat, but said that "once we locate them, no target is beyond our reach."
President Barack Obama has so far ruled out the use of American ground troops in Iraq and Syria, after pulling out ground forces from Iraq in 2011 before launching an air campaign last year in the two countries against Islamic State insurgents.
Officials admit uphill battle
Carter and Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged to lawmakers that the U.S. is struggling to combat the Islamic State forces.
"No one is satisfied with our progress to date," Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Carter said he was "disappointed" in the failure of a $500 million U.S. effort to train moderate rebel forces in Syria to fight against the Islamic State. The United States abandoned the program earlier this month after only a few soldiers had been trained.
In response, Carter said the United States has intensified its aerial campaign against the Islamic State in hopes of shrinking its hold on Raqqa in northern Syria, the headquarters of its operations.