WASHINGTON -- U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says military progress against Islamic State (IS) fighters in Iraq remains slow, and that Washington will send attack helicopters and more advisers to help retake the strategic city of Ramadi.
In December 9 testimony, Carter faced visibly frustrated members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, who pushed the defense secretary and Air Force General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on whether more can be done to defeat the extremist group.
Several senators cited last week's mass shooting in California, in which 14 people were killed by a married couple who had pledged support to IS and, according to officials, had been radicalized two years ago.
Carter said that the United States was intensifying its effort against IS militants, and he cited the recent successes by local fighters, including Kurdish Peshmerga and moderate Syrian Arabs, who have taken back population centers in Iraq and Syria.
But he said the effort by Iraqi security forces to take back Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar Province, had been slow. He said forces had captured a military operations center and a neighborhood on the city's outskirts.
"The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi Army with additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers, if circumstances dictate and if requested" by Iraq's prime minister, Carter said.
Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters have also recently seized the northeastern Syrian town of Al-Hawl, near the Iraqi border.
Carter said U.S. allies in the fight against IS forces needed to contribute more, particularly Sunni Arab states, some of which have diverted their military assets toward the civil war in Yemen.
"The international community -- including our allies and partners -- has to step up before another attack like Paris," Carter said, a reference to the November 13 bomb and gun attacks in the French capital that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more.
"I too wish that particularly the Sunni Arab nations of the [Persian] Gulf would do more," he said.
Some 3,500 U.S. troops remain deployed in Iraq four years after the United States formally ended its combat operations there.
U.S. officials recently announced the deployment of an "expeditionary tracking force" to Iraq, numbering around 200 personnel, who would be more actively involved in operations both in Iraq and doing raids in Syria.
The Obama administration is also deploying some 50 special operations personnel to work alongside Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
"The reality is, we're at war. That's how our troops feel about it every day," Carter said.