ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The military said today that it will increase the number of troops in Iraq to create a new targeting force. It's the first time officials have acknowledged that some of these troops will take part in combat. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman reports.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The U.S. already has some 3,500 troops in Iraq mostly working as advisers and trainers for the country's Security Forces. This new force will take the fight to ISIS in an effort to secure the border between Iraq and Syria and hunt down Islamic State leaders in raids. Colonel Steve Warren outlined the plan to reporters in a conference call from Baghdad.
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: A raid is a combat operation. There's no way around that. More Americans will be coming here to Iraq, and some of them will be conducting raids inside both Iraq and Syria.
BOWMAN: Warren said most of the 100 soldiers taking part in the targeting force will be support personnel, flying helicopters and gathering intelligence. He said there won't be many what he called trigger-pullers.
WARREN: So actual forces who can do offensive, kinetic operation - it's a very small number.
BOWMAN: Recently, the Pentagon said it would send dozens of special operators into Syria to train and assist rebel fighters. And now this new targeting unit will include trigger-pullers even though President Obama made this pledge two years ago.
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BARACK OBAMA: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan.
BOWMAN: When asked about the president's comment, Colonel Warren said there's a distinction between combat raids and ground combat, like the invasion of Iraq.
WARREN: What we're talking about here is ground formations - right? - combat formations. We're not talking about, you know, 2003 Thunder Run from Kuwait up to Baghdad. That's ground combat.
BOWMAN: There were some reports that Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi was opposed to any U.S. combat operations, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. has been working with Abadi on creating the new targeting force. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
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