ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, October 20, 2015 —
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wants his team “to open the aperture” as they look to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said today that coalition military officials must continue to look for new and better ways to implement the strategy.
“To me, it’s all about capabilities,” he told reporters who traveled with him to Israel, Jordan and Iraq. “It may be as simple as methods and timing, and then it might be different ways of doing what we’re doing.”
The United States supports the campaign against ISIL through an air campaign, training and advice, the general said. “What I told the team was to open the aperture,” he said. “How do we do that most effectively? I want to go back to look at it all from a capabilities perspective. I want to be aggressive in generating momentum in a campaign, generating confidence in the campaign.”
An Incredibly Complex Area
The Middle East is an incredibly complex area rife with problems, prejudices, wars, failed states and hatreds and alliances that go back millennia, the chairman said. Dunford told reporters that his trip to Israel, Jordan and Iraq gave him an opportunity to view the region through the eyes of others.
Israel is a foundational ally in the region, and his first stop there gave him an opportunity to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the commander of the Israeli Defense Forces. He got their assessment on a number of different problems, he said, including ISIL, Iranian malign activities, worries that the civil war in neighboring Syria could spill over to Jordan, and Russian involvement in the Middle East.
In Jordan, Dunford met with King Abdullah II, Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Prince Faisal al-Hussein and Gen. Mashal al-Zaben, chief of defense.
“Looking at the world through Jordan’s lens is different than Israel’s, and certainly different than the U.S.,” Dunford said. “You are almost triangulating to try and get your arms around pretty complex problems with multiple layers.
“Everybody agrees, generally, on the challenges,” he continued, “but they don’t agree on the prioritization of the challenges or how to deal with the challenges.”
Visit to Iraq
The chairman’s final stop was Iraq, where he met with Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani in Irbil and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad.
The Kurdish leader was positive about a proposal to more closely integrate his peshmerga forces with the rest of Iraq’s security forces, particularly in Mosul, Dunford said. Iraqi leaders also agreed to appoint a military commander to lead all aspects of Iraq’s security community, and will begin meetings on that tomorrow, he added.
Dunford said he also spoke with Iraqi leaders about Russia. He told the Iraqi leaders about the memorandum of understanding signed between Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, and his counterpart in Moscow on ensuring safe operations in the skies over Syria. That MOU will establish a link between Centcom’s Air Operations Center in Qatar and a comparable facility in Moscow.
“I very much emphasized that this was not to coordinate operations [with the Russians], it wasn’t to deconflict, but it was to ensure safe operations in the region,” the chairman said. “I told them we have no plans to coordinate or cooperate with the Russians in conducting operations and that we had made it clear to the Russians that we will continue to do what we’re doing.”
If Russia did begin flying missions over Iraq, it would preclude the United States from flying, Dunford told the Iraqi leaders. They understood the situation, he said, and Abadi told him that Iraq has not asked the Russians to fly missions over Iraq and Russia has not offered to launch strikes inside Iraq.
“Both the prime minister and the defense minister said they recognize the partnership and relationship with the U.S.-led coalition is the critical relationship they needed to deal with a common threat,” he said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)