WASHINGTON, July 3, 2014 —
The United States has sent troops back to Iraq because it is in America’s interest for the country to remain stable and to counter Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told a Pentagon news conference that Iraq’s leaders must form an inclusive government that respects the rights of all groups.
Iraq can and should be a U.S. partner in countering terrorism, Dempsey said. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has captured large sections of the country’s north and west over the past few weeks, is a regional threat, Dempsey said, but could become a transnational and global threat in the future. They have “made some pretty significant and rapid advances.”
Yet “they’re stretched right now,” the chairman said, “stretched to control what they have gained and stretched across their logistics lines of communication.”
There are currently nearly 800 American service members in Iraq, with some protecting the American embassy and other facilities. Other U.S. troops are assessing the situation on the ground and have now opened a second joint operations center in Erbil in northern Iraq after establishing one in Baghdad last month. President Barack Obama ordered up to 300 U.S. special forces to the country last month to provide advice on how best to assist the Iraqi military in their fight against Sunni militants.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have stiffened resistance in face of the militants’ gains.
“I don’t have the assessment teams’ exact language, but some initial insights are that the ISF is stiffening, that they’re capable of defending Baghdad,” Dempsey said.
Iraqi forces would be challenged however, if they went on the offensive against the militants, he added.
Dempsey emphasized the ability of Iraq’s military to defend the country depends on political leaders in Baghdad uniting to form a government of national unity.
In addition, what role the United States will play in Iraq going forward, he said, depends on the conclusions of the U.S. military assessment teams, as well as Iraq’s political progress.
Currently, U.S. advisors in Iraq are not involved in combat operations, Dempsey said, but he did not rule that out.
“If the assessment comes back and reveals that it would be beneficial to this effort and to our national security interests to put the advisors in a different role, I will first consult with the secretary, we will consult with the president,” he said. “We’ll provide that option and we will move ahead.”
Even so, he said U.S. involvement in Iraq does not amount to “mission creep.” Choosing to characterize it instead as “mission match.”
“We will match the resources we apply with the authorities and responsibilities that go with them based on the mission we undertake, and that is to be determined,” the chairman said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)