Former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates on Wednesday said US ground troops will have to be part of the equation if there’s “any hope of success” in President Barack Obama’s strategy to “degrade and destroy” the extremist group ISIS (also known as ISIL or the Islamic State).
“The reality is they’re not going be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own,” Gates said in an interview on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday.
“So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that” he won’t send ground troops, Gates said, Obama “in effect traps himself.”
Gates’ comments come a day after the White House sought to clarify comments from the administration’s top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, who opened the door for US ground troops if the situation on the ground deteriorates.
“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.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest subsequently reiterated Tuesday afternoon that Obama believes US ground troops should not have a combat role in Iraq.
Gates, who served in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, also said he was concerned about the stated objective of the US mission against ISIS — to “degrade and destroy” the group. He said that goal may be “unattainable,” considering the US’ lengthy engagements with other terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
“We’ve been at war with al-Qaeda for 13 years. We have dealt them some terrible blows, including the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Gates said.
“But I don’t think anybody would say that after 13 years we’ve destroyed or defeated al-Qaeda. I think to promise that we’re going to destroy ISIS or ISIL sets a goal that may be unattainable, as opposed to devastating it … and dealing them terrible blows that prevent them from holding territory. Those are probably realistic goals.”
Here’s the clip of Gates on CBS:
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