BAGHDAD, July 18, 2015 —
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made an unannounced visit here today to discuss progress in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke to leaders about the situation on the ground, and he spoke to service members about their experiences in the country.
“The most important thing was to interact with those who are doing the mission,” the chairman told reporters traveling with him. “I didn’t find that to be a challenge. They were actually quite incredible in understanding what we recommend they do.”
The chairman said he asked U.S. and coalition senior leaders point-blank if they needed more troops or if they needed troops embedded in Iraqi units, and they said, ‘Not now.’
“They are not telling me what I want to hear,” Dempsey said. “Most of them have been here before, and so they know what it is going to take to defeat ISIL militarily and also to ensure we don’t contribute to this ideology that is the foundation of this movement called ISIL.”
The chairman said he had good conversations about the transregional situation concerning ISIL, and about how to build the coalition. Iraqi security forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Sunni tribes are taking up arms against the group. Sixty nations now contribute to the fight against the terror organization. Dempsey said ISIL has ambitions to be a state, but that is not going to happen.
“It is about building partners inside that can continually displace ISIL and who are in a much better place to displace the ideology than we are,” he said.
Operation in Ramadi
The Ramadi operation is ongoing and has a number of phases, with the actual assault phase still sometime in the future, the general said. The objective now, he added, is to isolate Ramadi to deny ISIL the ability to either withdraw or reinforce. “The operation is moving at a pace that leaders feel is adequate,” he said.
Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahea Resool said through a translator that Iraqi forces could take Ramadi tomorrow, but they are holding back to protect the people trapped in the city and to save the infrastructure that ISIL terrorists have fortified.
Q&A With Service Members
During a question-and-answer session with American service members near the Joint Operations Center, Dempsey asked how many had been in Iraq before. Fully three-quarters raised their hands. He then asked how many expected to be there in the years to come, and almost all raised their hands.
The chairman called the fight against ISIL a “generational” battle. U.S. and coalition troops could come into Iraq and put down ISIL quickly, he said, but it would only spring back to life under a different name, still spouting the same hatred.
Service members are worried about what they see as dangerous cuts to the military, and they asked the chairman about it.
“They are not war-weary a bit,” Dempsey said. “They do not shirk from multiple deployments, but they want it to be at a pace that actually allows them to manage their lives with their families.”
Worried About Same Commitments, Fewer Troops
The military established the standard of one year deployed, two years at home, and that seems to work, the general said. “The fear is not multiple tours under a situation like that,” he said. “Rather, the fear is that if we continue to shrink the size of the force, service members are worried that leaders will shrink the dwell ratio, because the commitment won’t go down, but the force could.”
He noted the Army is on a path to shrink from 490,000 active duty soldiers to 450,000. “If we get pushed into sequestration, the plan is to further drop the number to 420,000,” he said. Sequestration is a sizeable cut in military spending that will take effect Oct. 1 unless Congress changes the budget law.
“What you’re hearing not only from the Army’s leadership, but the rank and file, is that they are concerned that we will do that -- we won’t reduce commitments, and the bill payer will be them in terms of the frequency they are deployed,” Dempsey said.
“Sailors tell me the same thing, airmen the same, and Marines say the same thing,” he continued. “They say, ‘You’re going to put this on my back, aren’t you? I keep saying, ‘No, we’re not, but I’m here to tell you I am concerned.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)