To accelerate operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, it may be necessary to send more U.S. service members to Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told the Pentagon press corps that in the coming weeks DoD will present to President Barack Obama a series of recommendations to further enable support to the counter-ISIL forces.
Dunford, who briefed the press alongside Defense Secretary Ash Carter, said they both “believe that there will be an increase to the U.S. forces in Iraq in the coming weeks, but that decision hasn’t been made.”
Any decisions the president makes will be done in the broader context of what needs to happen to maintain momentum against ISIL, “and what specifically do we need to do to enable operations in Mosul,” the chairman said.
A Marine Corps artillery unit based in Makhmur, Iraq, is part of the support to Iraqi forces. The Marines are providing fire support to Iraqi forces isolating ISIL forces in Mosul, Dunford said. “From my perspective, this is no different than aviation fires we’ve been delivering,” he said. “This happens to be surface fires, or artillery, but certainly no different conceptually than the fire support we’ve been providing to the Iraqis all along.”
The battle for Mosul will be tough, the chairman said, but he stressed that Iraqi forces will be the ones fighting that battle.
“We will be in a position to provide advise, assist and enabling capabilities to make them successful,” he said.
The counter-ISIL campaign is more than the effort in Iraq and Syria. The attacks in Brussels, Paris, San Bernadino, California, Ankara, Turkey and elsewhere highlight the need for more and better intelligence sharing, the chairman said. “From a military-to-military perspective, we’ve significantly increased our information- [and] intelligence-sharing over the last few months, and we have specific locations where we bring together a number of our coalition partners to do just that,” Dunford said.
U.S. officials believe that there are citizens of more than 100 countries who have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the terrorist group. The chairman said it is hard to know, but estimates exceed 35,000 foreign fighters in the region.
“In my judgment, unless all the countries that are affected by the foreign fighters are cooperating at the law enforcement, the intelligence community level and the military level, we won't have the site picture … necessary to take effective action against these individuals prior to attacks, like the one we saw in Brussels this week,” he said.
Dunford stands by his statement that counter-ISIL forces have the momentum. Whether measured in terms of the ground ISIL holds or the resources it can call upon, counter-ISIL forces are making progress in both Iraq and Syria, the chairman said.
“We’ve made a dent in the resources. We’ve started to affect their command and control in a negative way. I think we've begun to undermine the narrative,” Dunford said.
But ISIL is still able to launch terrorist attacks abroad and conduct guerilla operations in the region, he said.
“I think the momentum is in our favor,” the chairman said. “I think there are a lot of reasons … for us to be optimistic about the next several months. But by no means would I say that we’re about to break the back of ISIL or … that the fight is over.”