The Pentagon plans to sharply increase spending on the fight against the Islamic State group and potentially put more American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria later this year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday.
The Defense Department budget request slated for release next week is seeking $7.5 billion for operations in Iraq and Syria for fiscal year 2017, up nearly 50 percent from the $5.3 billion requested in 2016, Carter said.
"We have 3,700 boots on the ground in Iraq today, and we're looking to do more. We're looking for opportunities to do more," Carter said Tuesday.
The secretary, speaking in Washington, offered for the first time some key details about the defense budget for the fiscal year that begins in October. That budget request will be officially released next Tuesday.
For example, a big chunk of that money will go to replenishing depleted stocks of the "GPS-guided smart bombs and laser-guided rockets" that are used for air strikes on Islamic State targets. The new budget sets aside $1.8 billion to buy 45,000 new bombs and rockets, Carter said.
"This will be critical as our updated coalition military campaign plan kicks in," Carter said at an event sponsored by the Economic Club of Washington.
Carter has recently highlighted the Pentagon's new plans for defeating the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The new campaign will focus on helping local forces retake the militants' two main strongholds, Mosul, Iraq and Raqqah, Syria.
Carter said President Obama has been supportive of expanding the U.S. military mission in Iraq and Syria. "Every time the chairman and I have asked the president for more capability to do that, he said yes, and I expect that will continue," Carter said.
Carter said he hopes that other countries will offer troops as well. "It won't just be Americans. This is crucial. It has got to be the other members of our so-called coalition," the secretary said.
Carter touted next week's meeting in Brussels where he'll talk with dozens of defense ministers from allied nations to coordinate future plans for the anti-ISIS fight.
"What I'm going to do with them is to say, all right, here are all the capabilities that are needed — boots on the ground, airplanes in the air, more prosaic things, logistics, bridging, training for those police that are going to patrol cities like they're patrolling Ramadi now once the cities are retaken," he said.
"And I'm going to say, OK, guys, let's match up what is needed to win, with what you have, and kind of give everybody the opportunity to make an assignment for themselves. This is important. The United States will lead this and we're determined, but other people have to do their part because … civilization has to fight for itself," Carter said.
On Monday, the top U.S. general in Iraq said he may need more American troops on the ground as the fight against ISIS involves more conventional warfare tactics.
"Yes, there is a good potential that we will need additional capabilities, additional forces to provide those capabilities. And we're looking at the right mix … in consultation with the government of Iraq and our other partners," Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland told reporters Monday.
The general said the American-led military training mission there is now focused more on conventional warfare tactics. "We have shifted from a pure counterinsurgency focus and are now preparing the [Iraqi security forces] to conduct what we refer to as combined arms operations," MacFarland said in a video teleconference from Iraq.
"The ability to integrate infantry, armor, artillery, air power, engineers and other assets on the battlefield, provides the Iraqis with a decisive advantage over a static enemy dug in behind complex obstacle belts," MacFarland said.
"I've been directed to come up with a series of proposals. Some would call them 'accelerants' to the campaign that would allow us to increase the pressure on the enemy. Now, that doesn't necessarily equate to boots on the ground. It doesn't necessarily equate to American boots on the ground. It could be coalition boots on the ground. It could be a capability that doesn't require any significant number of troops on the ground," MacFarland said.
When reporters repeatedly asked about the prospect of American troops participating in combat operations, the general did not rule anything out. "The decision as to whether or not … something is on or off the table is not my decision. That's really, at the end of the day, that's my commander in chief's. So, you know, all of us in uniform are … preparing various options. The president will decide," MacFarland said.
MacFarland's comments came as a top White House official was wrapping up a rare trip to Baghdad to meet with Iraqis about the next phase of the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk arrived on Saturday and departed Monday, officials said.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.