Martin Dempsey, the US’ top military officer, hinted Tuesday that he would consider recommending a more direct involvement of US ground troops in the military’s ongoing campaign against the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State (also ISIS or ISIL).
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, opened the door to US ground troops taking a more direct role in the conflict in a couple different situations.
First, he said if the situation escalated to the point where ISIS became a direct threat to the US homeland, he would recommend the use of ground forces on specific ISIS-held targets. And he speculated on certain missions in which ground troops might be necessary. For example, he said, he would recommend US military advisers currently in Iraq join Iraqi Security Forces in a theoretical mission to retake Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.
“To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said.
He added: “At this juncture, our advisers are intended to help the Iraqis develop a mindset for the offensive and the actions to match it. Our military advisers will help the Iraqis conduct campaign planning, arrange for enabler and logistics support, and coordinate coalition contributions.”
Both Dempsey and Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel faced questioning Tuesday from the Senate panel on President Barack Obama’s strategy to “degrade and destroy” the extremist group. Dempsey’s comments run contrary to what Obama has said repeatedly over the past few months — that no US “boots on the ground” would be sent to combat.
During a primetime speech from the White House last Wednesday when he laid out his strategy, Obama said US airstrikes on the group would support partners on the ground, including the Iraqi Security Forces and moderate rebels fighting ISIS in Syria.
“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama said. “It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”
The US went on offence with Iraqi forces against ISIS for the first time Monday night as part of its expanded mission against the group, striking a target southwest of Baghdad. US airstrikes are expected to ramp up in both Iraq and, eventually, in Syria, where it will work with rebels of the Free Syrian Army.
The House of Representatives is expected to soon pass legislation that would give Obama the authority to train and equip the rebels in Syria. Both Hagel and Dempsey said the US was prepared to conduct airstrikes in Syria.
“This will not look like ‘shock and awe’ because that is not how ISIL is organised,” Dempsey said, referring to the start of the 2003 campaign in Iraq. “But it will be persistent and sustainable.”
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